On the dotted line: Kilgore, Westlund make it official
Wednesday, Feb. 4 was a big day for prep athletes across the country as it was "signing day" -- the first day a high school student-athlete can sign a national letter of intent to play one of six sports, the biggest being football and soccer -- at their college of choice.
Park wasn't without a participant in the festivities as two standouts -- R.C. Kilgore and Briana Westlund -- made it official by putting pen to paper in a brief ceremony at Park High School.
At the ceremony, Park High School Activities Director Phil Kuemmel said both Kilgore and Westlund were the faces of their specific sports at Park.
Kilgore, who set Park's career passing record, became the team's second player in the past 25 years to earn a Div. I football scholarship as he signed with South Dakota State. Westlund, a five-year starter for the girls soccer team and the 2007 Pioneer Press Player of the year, signed to play soccer in the Big Ten with Northwestern University.
Briana Westlund, Northwestern University, soccer
Westlund, a defender and midfielder, finished her high school career as one of the most highly decorated soccer players in school history.
Deemed a starter in eighth grade, Westlund is a four-time All-Conference award winner and earned All-State honors three times, in addition to being All-Conference honorable mention as an eighth-grader and earning National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-American honors as a junior.
Westlund said signing day felt bittersweet, because it helped sink in the fact that her Park career is over.
"I get to play at college, but I don't get to play with my teammates anymore," Westlund said. "It's kind of sad because we're all departing."
As a senior Westlund had eight points on three goals and five assists, despite playing the year while recovering from a dislocated knee-cap injury that forced her to miss the season's first six games.
"Briana is one of the top players in the state of Minnesota, in terms of athleticism, soccer skills, soccer knowledge and competitiveness," Park head coach Greg Juba said.
The Wolfpack compiled a record of 71-18-11 during Westlund's five-year varsity career. This season the team was 15-3-2 overall, finished second in the Suburban East Conference with a 10-2-2 record, made it to the Section 3AA finals and didn't allow a goal in its final five games.
"Since she's been little, she's played with the best players in the state and in the nation," Juba said. "She does a very good job of anticipating what's going on and knowing where she should be and what should be going on. Also, she never backed down to a physical challenge."
Last year, Northwestern was 5-5 in the Big Ten and ended the year with a 3-1 loss to Minnesota in the conference tournament. Westlund, who plans on pursuing a degree in biology and a career in medicine said she chose Northwestern for its scholastic standing as much as for its soccer team's achievements.
"I looked at academics before I looked at soccer for the most part," Westlund said. "But, Northwestern had both -- good soccer and academics."
R.C. Kilgore, South Dakota State University, football
When questioned on his goals growing up, Kilgore -- who played varsity football since 10th grade and was the Wolfpack's starting quarterback as a junior and senior -- always said, "to play Div. I football."
Kilgore's signing made him the first Park player to sign with South Dakota State and the only the second Park player in the past 25 years to earn a Div. I football scholarship.
The last Park player to do so was Tom Bush, who played football for Iowa until last year.
"It feels amazing," Kilgore said. "Growing up I always watched the signing days on ESPN and I always hoped that I would do that someday. It's been one of my goals my whole life to get a football scholarship. It feels like I've accomplished my goals. Now I can just search out another goal to conquer."
Park head coach Doug Ekmark believed Kilgore will be one of only a handful of players from Park to ever play Div. I football. Other Div. I football players from Park were Lawrence Hart, who played at Northern Iowa in the early '80s, and Glenn Bourquin, who starred at the University of Minnesota in the late '70s.
"We've had a couple kids walk on and some Div. II kids, but R.C. is only the fourth Div. I football player in the past 40 years that we're aware of," said Ekmark, who has been head coach the past 24 years.
Kilgore -- a starting quarterback since his sophomore season -- is projected as a linebacker for the Jackrabbits. He said he's looking forward to delivering hits every game instead of taking them.
"I still have a lot of work ahead of me," Kilgore said. "But, I'm kind of excited to return the favor. I love football. I've played quarterback my whole life, but I'm just excited to have the chance to play football in college."
Kilgore led the Wolfpack in rushing and passing in both his junior and senior seasons. He earned all-conference honors twice as well as honorable mention All-State recognition.
This past fall, although he missed one game because of injury, Kilgore ran 116 times for 592 yards and 11 touchdowns and completed 45 of 91 passes for 779 yards and seven touchdowns while tossing four interceptions, becoming Park's all-time passing leader. He had 1371 total yards, which is over 171 yards per game.
"He's quite a player," Ekmark said. "He's a great kid and he plays as hard as he can."
South Dakota State, a member of the NCAA Div. I Football Championship Subdivision, finished the 2008 season with a 7-5 overall record. The Jackrabbits played their inaugural season in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2008, ending the campaign in third place with a 6-2 mark in league play.
SDSU is scheduled to kick off the 2009 season Sept. 12, hosting Georgia Southern and is scheduled to play at Minnesota on Nov. 14, 2009 at the all-new TCF Bank Stadium.
"Dream big, because that's what I did," Kilgore said. "You can do whatever you want if you work hard enough for it. God blessed me with this ability and my family and coaches believed in me. Now, I'm just excited for next year."
-- 2008-09: As a senior, Kilgore led the team in rushing and passing. Rushing: 116 carries, 592 yards, 11 touchdowns. 5.1 yards per carry. Passing: 45-for-91 for 779 yards, seven touchdowns, four interceptions. Voted All-State honorable mention and All-Conference.
-- 2007-08: Kilgore led the team in rushing and passing as a junior. He had 1152 total yards, good for 144 yards per game. Passing: 684 yards and three touchdowns. Rushing: 468 yards and seven scores. Voted All-Conference.
-- Varsity letters -- (5) 8th grade, freshman, sophomore, junior, senior
-- All-State -- sophomore, junior, senior years
-- All-Conference honorable mention -- eight-grade year
-- National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-American -- junior
-- Pioneer Press Soccer Player of the Year -- junior
-- Senior year: 3 goals, 5 assists.
-- Career: 14 Goals, 8 Assists