Speed, strength and skills

U.P. football All-Stars take part in various competitions before big game Saturday

MARQUETTE — It’s All-Star week in the Upper Peninsula with football players from all over descending on the Superior Dome in preparation for Saturday’s big game.

However, the game isn’t the only event going on as the players took part it in various competitions Wednesday, in kind of a U.P. version of the NFL Scouting Combine. Events included the 40-yard dash, the longest throw and a receiver challenge among others.

Calumet’s Cooper Twardzik took part in the throwing competition, out-throwing Munising’s Alec Blank and Gladstone’s Darin Johnson, but ultimately losing to Forest Park’s Peter Ropiak. He said he just walked over and decided to compete for fun and even surprised himself by taking the title.

“I just tried it out,” he said with a laugh. “This was out of randomness. I came over just because it looked fun and I ended up winning this thing.”

Blank took his loss in stride though and talked about how eager he was to play in the game as it is somewhat of a family tradition.

“My brother and my older cousin played in it a couple years back and talked about how much fun it was,” he said. “So, I was really looking forward to trying to make it here and when I did, I was pretty happy. It’s been a blast all week.”

Meanwhile over at the 40-yard dash, Escanaba’s Scout Wunder was setting one of his “personal bests” and said he was enjoying competing against some talented players as well as getting to know them.

“There’s some great athletes here and you get to create new friendships and go against some of my teammates,” he said. “It’ll be fun.”

Twardzik agreed saying how’s he’s looking forward to playing with friends one more time as well as going up against guys he’s never seen.

“That’s the whole deal about this, getting to know new kids and you’re playing with the best in the U.P.,” he said. Even my roommate, I’ve never seen the kid before in my life and we’re tight. It’s awesome.”

All three athletes will be playing ball at the next level with Wunder going to Michigan Tech as a wide receiver and Twardzik heading to Northern Michigan University in theory as an offensive lineman, but says he’ll play “wherever he fits in” and knows that he’s got some work to put in to prepare for college ball.

“College is a new kind of animal,” he said. “It’s nothing like high school where I come from where I get pulled up because I’m one of the bigger kids. It’s not that kind of thing. It’s all about talent, size, maturity of the body. Everything’s all combined for that. It’s going to be hard to get adjusted to, but hopefully in the next few years, I’ll be ready for this.”

While those two are going Division II, Blank is going the Division III route at Finlandia where he’ll get a chance to play with more Yooper athletes than at NMU or Tech.

“I’m really excited to go to Finlandia,” he said. “I just love football and I just want to keep it going. I had a few other offers, but Finlandia felt like the best for me. I’ll get to play alongside some more U.P. kids, so I thought it’d be fun.”

Even though all three are moving on to different places this fall, a victory on Saturday would be a great way to start off their new paths.

“A win on Saturday would make everything perfect,” Blank said.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.