By BRAD SALMEN
In looking to further his golf career, DC senior standout Jackson Bakeberg took just one college visit.
Turns out, it was the only one he needed.
Bakeberg, a 2x state tournament entrant who on paper would have been in contention this spring, had little expectation when he visited Bemidji State, an NCAA Division II school.
Oh sure, he had been texting the coach (Ekren Miller) for a while, and the school had a business program that looked like it fit his goals. But he had no intentions of committing when he visited the BSU campus with his father, Scott.
After all, the most important consideration was a school that would accommodate his walk in faith, and he had no idea if BSU fit the bill.
The first inkling he had that BSU might be right was when his tour guide mentioned that he played drums with Miller at church, though at the time Bakeberg thought little of it.
As the tour went on, however, more and more things fell into place.
The classrooms and dorms felt comfortable, and even more impressive was the new facility for the golf teams, the McBride Clubhouse.
The McBride Clubhouse features a simulator, putting green, and lifting area for the athletes, along with their own chiropractic and medical room. It also serves as a place for the golf team to congregate year-round.
“There were a lot of perks of being a student-athlete at BSU,” said Bakeberg.
But it was when he got to sit down with Coach Miller that Bakeberg knew he was in the right place.
After talking golf for a while, Bakeberg asked Miller about what his tour guide had mentioned in regard to playing Christian music with him.
Miller explained that not only was he a Christian musician, he was part of a non-denominational church [like Bakeberg], and also was part of an organization where he meets professional golfers and talks religion with them.
“After meeting [Coach Miller] and learning about him, it was the easiest decision of my life,” said Bakeberg, who committed on the spot. “This was exactly what I was looking for in a college, and it already seemed like home to me.”
For his part, Miller said that Bakeberg first came on his radar from one of his players, Brandon Nelson of Litchfield.
He has yet to see Bakeberg play in person, but “golf is nice in that scores are pretty objective.”
And based on his scores, said Miller, Bakeberg has tremendous potential.
“Recommendations from current players are meaningful because they see the talent and character that they would like on the team. Talent attracts talent,” Miller said. “Jackson could be an impact player right away in his freshman year.”
Miller said he tells every prospect that he is looking for the best academic and athletic fit for a player, including factors like proximity to home, the quality of golf program, academic offerings, campus feel, and the vibe you get from the coach and staff.
“Once he was on my recruiting list, I persistently recruited him for a campus visit,” said Miller. “Once Jackson visited with his father, it was evident this was a perfect fit.”
Bakeberg’s coach at DC, Brian Johnson, said Jackson will rank among the top boys golfers in his 23 years of coaching, along with players like Keeley Dolan, Paul Fiedler, Ben Barnes, Tyler Koivisto, and Troy Ryynanen.
“It is very unfortunate that his impressive high school career will probably come to a close without playing golf his senior year,” said Johnson. “Jackson has been an impressive player since he started varsity as an eighth-grader. His work ethic is one of his best attributes – he is never satisfied with his game and always wants to improve.”
But where Jackson impressed him most, said Johnson, was his leadership ability.
“From a very young age, he has led by example,” said Johnson. “As he has gotten older, he has really been great with the younger players on the team, showing them how to practice and play like a varsity player.”
Bakeberg said while he had interest from a number of NCAA Division II and III schools, none fit his criteria as perfectly as Bemidji State.
“I was just praying and hoping God would provide me with a college that he wanted me to go to, and somewhere I felt comfortable,” he said. “He answered that for me by giving me the opportunity to visit BSU.”