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Matt Jessen-Howard, a 2014 Woodbury High School grad, is the director of this Sunday’s Twin Cities Classic at Woodbury High School. (Bulletin photo by Jace Frederick)

Jessen-Howard to host Twin Cities Classic this Sunday

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Jessen-Howard to host Twin Cities Classic this Sunday
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Matt Jessen-Howard peered down at his phone to see a text from Drayton Carlberg, the top offensive lineman recruit in Minnesota.

The message -- Carlberg had received a scholarship offer to play football for the Minnesota Gophers. That was news Jessen-Howard was one of the first to have, and he needed to post something on the web quickly.

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The problem -- it was the middle of the school day at Woodbury High School, and Jessen-Howard had an AP Government test approaching.

So he ducked into the school’s yearbook room and did some quick work before heading to class to take his exam.

It was just another day in the life of Jessen-Howard, 18, who’s battled juggling school with his ever-growing work as a collegiate recruiting analyst.

“It keeps you busy, for sure,” he said.

Jessen-Howard, a 2014 WHS grad, added another task to his plate this year when he decided to put on the Twin Cities Classic, a showcase for some of the region’s top talent to compete designed to raise funds for the American Cancer Society.

Jessen-Howard said he got the idea from the Mary Kline Classic, an annual showcase put on by Jessen-Howard’s friend and nationally-renowned recruiting expert Alex Kline, which also benefits cancer research.

“A lot of people are impacted by cancer and I was already really involved with high school basketball and recruiting,” Jessen-Howard said. “So I tried to come up with an event that could bring together the basketball community and this community.”

Jessen-Howard himself has been closely affected by the disease. His mother suffered from papillary thyroid cancer, but was able to have it surgically removed.

“She’s doing fine, but not everyone is,” Jessen-Howard said. “Everyone is impacted in some way.”

The Twin Cities Classic will be held at Woodbury High School this Sunday starting at 2 p.m.

The event will feature plenty of Division-I recruits, including DeLaSalle stars Sacar Anim and Jarvis Johnson -- Johnson is being heavily recruiting by Minnesota. Other big names in the area include Apple Valley sensations Brock Bertram and Gary Trent Jr. East Ridge’s Sid Tomes will also compete.

But the TCC is not just limited to Minnesota’s top talent. Dupree McBrayer, a guard from New Jersey who also has an offer from the Gophers, will be on hand, as well.

Jessen-Howard said he wants to promote philanthropy in his generation. He said the TCC serves as a platform to show that these top recruits are not only basketball players, but great people as well.

But make no mistake, they are good on the hardwood.

“I wanted to get with some of the best guys in the state and have fun,” Johnson said. “It gives some fans a chance to see some good talent.”

Jessen-Howard started his work as a recruiting analyst in March 2013, on the eve of finals at WHS.

“It was just procrastination,” he said.

He started The Gopher Report that night. Since then he’s started Recruit Insider, has worked for 247Sports, a recruiting service from CBS Sports, and has contributed to ZagsBlog, which is a page for SportsNet New York of the Comcast Sports network.

“I was always interested in it because it’s people my age and I love college sports more than pro sports,” Jessen-Howard said.

He had 1,179 followers on Twitter as of Monday and has established himself as one of the top analysts in the area.

Still, it wasn’t so easy from the get-go for Jessen-Howard. He started as an unproven 17-year-old who was trying to establish sources with no connections, no reputation and no credibility.

But eventually he developed all of those through hard work. He now has a network of coaches, players and mentors in his arsenal.

And once he established a few sources, gaining more became much easier.

“I feel like your sources and everything just grow exponentially,” he said. “There needs to be some sort of trust there. … It’s easier to build more sources with the more credibility you have.”

Jessen-Howard said organizing the Twin Cities Classic was much easier with those connections in place.

He was able to message multiple businesses through Twitter and has secured sponsorships from InSports Foundation and Velocity Sports Performance Minnesota. He is still in talks with other potential sponsors, as well.

Having prior relationships helped recruit players to the event, as well.

“It’s way easier if you know them then just getting some random text saying ‘come to Woodbury High School Aug. 10. We’ve got a ton of people coming,’” Jessen-Howard said.

Still, there have been plenty of challenges along the way. Jessen-Howard’s age has made dealing with elders difficult at times, as they don’t all realize how serious he has been about pulling off such a large function.

“It’s not that they don’t take you seriously,” he said. “But if you say you’re running a big event. … (They’re wondering) ‘is this really going to happen?’”

It is indeed.

Jessen-Howard has pushed through all of the challenges, from making sure he has proper insurance, to recruiting players and garnering sponsorships to securing uniforms. Everything is just about in place.

“It’s a lot of work,” he said.

Between his work as a recruiting analyst, organizing the TCC and school -- which Jessen-Howard will continue as he heads to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in the fall -- he has a lot going on at once. Even his parents have at times told him simply to focus on school.

But he’s learned to juggle.

Jessen-Howard has cleared his schedule of most free time activities, which became clear as he tried to name three shows currently airing on television and came up with American Idol, The Simpsons and Lost.

Lost stopped airing in 2010.

“I don’t watch TV, I don’t watch movies,” he said. “But I like what I do, so it’s not hard to have motivation, but it’s hard to balance everything.”

He plans on continuing his balancing act into the distant future. He has no plans of giving up his work as a recruiting analyst anytime soon.

“If not as a career, then definitely as a side job or side hobby,” he said.

Jessen-Howard said admission for this weekend’s Twin Cities Classic will be $10 for adults, while kids will get in at a discounted rate. Games will be played at 2, 4 and 6 p.m., with a dunk contest and three-point shootout in between.

For complete rosters, to donate, or if you’re looking for more information, head to http://twincitiesclassic.org/. Questions can be sent to twincitiesclassic@yahoo.com.

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