BY JIMMY GILLIGAN | The Statesman
Logan Lauters stands on the turf of James S. Malosky stadium, as he has hundreds of times before. Only this time, UMD’s No. 2 all-time rusher isn’t in uniform, and a bulky knee brace wraps around his left knee.
There are no sounds of whistles, of cracking pads or of any sort of crowd. Only one day after the Bulldog football team drew the curtain on an 8-3 regular season with a home win over Minot State, the stadium is quiet. For the first time since the 2012 season, there will be no playoff encore at Malosky.
“This whole season has kind of been a letdown for me personally, and I guess for our whole team. Losing three times is pretty big for our program. It’s been weird,” Lauters said.
Lauters’ season ended at the same time UMD’s playoff hopes vanished--in their loss to Northern State three weeks ago. He sustained a serious knee injury in the Bulldogs’ third loss of the season, which knocked them out of the playoff tournament picture.
Out for the rest of the season, the senior missed playing on senior day. The sport, which he’s played for nearly half his life, has become difficult for Lauters even think about.
“I’ve been kind of trying to not have my mind on football, to be honest,” Lauters said.
It’s a bitter ending to an otherwise stellar collegiate career, a story eerily similar to that of his predecessor, former UMD running back Austin Sikorski.
Like Lauters, Sikorski’s senior year ended with torn knee ligaments late last season. The recurring theme of injuries has become something of a joke--because what else can they do about it but laugh?
“We’re kind of joking around. Coach Wiese was saying that Isaac Odim, the No. 1 rusher here, didn’t finish his senior season. Sikorski didn’t finish his. I didn’t finish mine. And there’s been other seniors too. It’s a senior curse,” Lauters said.
Coming to UMD in 2010, a year after Sikorski and a year after the Bulldogs’ second National Championship, Lauters quickly adjusted to the speed of the college game after a redshirt season. It didn’t come as a surprise to head coach Curt Wiese, who recruited him after four dominating years at Cedarburg High School in Wisconsin made him the No. 3 all-time rusher in Wisconsin high school football history.
“We saw the same thing in Logan as a high school tailback that we did in college, he’s an extremely explosive, physical style running back. He’s as tough of a tailback as I’ve ever coached,” Wiese said.
Even with Sikorski in front of him, Lauters came to have an important role in UMD’s ground attack. The duo wore down opposing defenses with a furious 1A-1B punch.
His abilities and leadership earned him captainship duties for his senior season. With a number of key returners from last season’s 15-1 team, things looked promising for another deep playoff run.
After losing two of their first three games, the Bulldogs kept the faith. In their fourth game, Lauters sprained his ankle and missed the next four games.
“At the time I really didn’t think it was going to take that long, but it took a lot longer than I was expecting (to get back),” Lauters said.
In his absence, the Bulldogs rebounded from their slow start. They rattled off five straight wins to get back into the playoff conversation with a 6-2 record. Then came Northern State. If there was any one game to sum up the disappointment of the season, that was it.
“Going in there I expected to beat them by three or four touchdowns,” Lauters said. “(It was) probably the worst game we’ve played as a team since I’ve been here.”
Right after a Northern State player dove into Lauters’ planted left leg in the third quarter, he knew it was over. It was far more painful than the season-ending knee injury he sustained during his sophomore season.
“I kind of knew right away that I really messed it up,” Lauters said. “This felt a lot worse (than my sophomore year injury), so I knew I was done after that. I lost it on the sidelines to tell you the truth, throwing stuff.”
Lauters tore his Anterior Cruciate, Posterior Cruciate and Medial Collateral Ligaments in his left knee, while also damaging his meniscus on the play.
“I felt bad for him, he had a rough senior year with the injuries. But it’s football and that happens. I just told him to keep his head up,” teammate Justin Fowlkes said.
Injuries happen, they’re an inevitable part of the game. They’re something players often don’t think about until after they occur.
“You can’t really have that mentality that you’re going to get hurt, but you kind of know in the back of your head that it’s a good possibility,” Lauters said. “(But) You have to realize that’s what happens, it’s a contact sport. You just have to move forward from there.”
Even more common than injuries in sports is failure--something the Bulldog football program hasn’t experienced much of in their recent history. But after losing three games for the first time in eight years, UMD, like Lauters, could do nothing but move forward.
“There’s a reason Logan Lauters was the team captain,” Wiese said. “He’s helped instill that in our team, that this is about the team, this isn’t about any individual. It’s about a team and a program working to get better each week.”
A 2015 USA College Football first team All-American and No. 2 all-time rusher at UMD, Lauters’ accolades and statistics speak louder than the disappointing finish to his collegiate career. His 3,351 career yards and 6.4 yards per carry take a back seat to only one UMD rusher in program history.
Years from now he might be able to recall some of his 36 touchdowns and 531 career carries, but what he will remember most about his time as a Bulldog, is the men he lived through it with.
“I came here to win a national championship and I didn't do that, but I got a lot more from the program than a national championship would have (given me),” Lauters said. “All the guys, all the friendships, all the connections I’ve made. The coaches are great. (They’ve) pretty much built me up to who I am today.”