Eight Stevens Raiders have now signed with D-1 schools

Drew Iddings (middle) signs his letter of intent with the University of South Dakota Wednesday at Stevens High School with his father Wayne Iddings and stepmother Val Iddings at his side. (Photo Jake Nordbye/IDS)

As four Stevens athletes signed with D-1 schools on Wednesday, I thought to myself, this has to be one of the best classes to ever come out of Rapid City.

The reason? A grand total of eight Raider boys have now committed to play at Division I universities.

The latest four athletes to sign from Stevens will all play football at the next level. Wide receiver Alex Litzen and defensive end Drew Iddings signed with the University of South Dakota. Linebacker Alex Schnell penned with South Dakota State University, and quarterback/safety Hayden Hast with Valparaiso University.

They join four other Raiders who committed to D-1 schools during the early signing period: wrestlers Kris Klapprodt (Iowa), and Jarrett Jensen (Northern Iowa), baseball pitcher Tanner Chleborad (Washington State), and tennis phenom Jack Hamburg (Minnesota).

In the fall, these eight individuals will go their separate ways.

It didn’t start out that way.

This group has known each other since elementary school, in some cases since they started walking. They played pick-up football on frigid February days on the playground, and have competed with and against each other on Little League and Midget Football fields. The internal competition has brought them closer together, and ultimately pushed them to be better. Wednesday was the ceremony, a reward for their hard work and success during the high school years.

It was also the culmination of a young lifetime together.

“I remember having sleepovers at Kris Klapprodt’s house. We would pull all-nighters and just go crazy. When we were kids we would have huge wars with our GI Joe’s,” laughed Tanner Chleborad. “When we got older it was dodge ball games in the house, then Xbox tournaments, even seeing who could stay up the longest was a competition.”

Competition. The central nervous system of sport. Without it, games and matches would die. It is one of the most important ways human beings distinguish themselves from one another. While, for some, the world comes down to people who fish and those who don’t. For others, there are people who have read Emerson, Kant, or McCarthy, and those who haven’t. For athletes, there are those who thrive in competition, and those who shy away from it.

Alex Litzen signs his letter of intent with the University of South Dakota with his parents Lori and Dave Litzen by his side. (Photo Jake Nordbye/IDS)

“We’ve had amazing influences our whole lives,” said Litzen. “From our coaches to parents. We’re in the weight room all summer and in the off-season. Pretty much whatever kind of workout it is we’re always with each other. I think work ethic is definitely part of it, but mostly it is just our competitive drive. We’ve always wanted to be better than the other kids.”

Not everyone loves to compete. We all know people who will avoid it like it’s the plague. But there are those who are wired for it. It consumes them. They must win not only on the playing field, but in the class room, at the work place, and even at home. For the greatest athletes they understand that it is the key to sport, to success. For some, even their best friends are their biggest competitors.

“We’ve been trying to best each other our entire lives. It’s a friendly competition, but that is what you need to get better,” said Schnell “Litzen and I compete in the weight room. Tanner and I have been best friends since second grade, and Klapprodt has been trying to best everyone at everything since we ran the quarter-mile in kindergarten.”

Schnell and Klapprodt celebrate a victory over Central this fall. (Photo Jake Nordbye/IDS)

Klapprodt, Schnell, Chleborad, and Iddings all went to Meadowbrook Elementary School together from kindergarten through the 5th grade. All four of them played on the Canyon Lake Little League All-Stars together, all of them played of the Midget Football Pavers together. Growing up, the group won everything. City championships in baseball, track titles, wrestling titles, and they lost only two games in three years in Midget Football. Ask people who watched these kids grow up and they all say the same thing: they’re winners, they’re competitors.

“It just seemed like this group of kids was something special,” said Drew’s father Wayne Iddings. “Some of them went to different schools when they were younger, but we all had an idea that they could do some great things. A lot of that is because they support each other in everything that they do, but they compete against each other, and bring out the best in each other.”

Who did they compete against? Before they were Raiders, Hayden Hast and Alex Litzen.

“Even in Midget Football we knew their names,” said Hast. “There was a big Mustang (Hast’s team) and Paver rivalry. It carried over to middle school and after the championship game I remember telling them, ‘we’re going to be together next year and we’re going to be great.’”

They were. Together they went undefeated as freshmen and lost only one game as sophomores. Once captains picking their peers on the playground, Klapprodt, Hast, Litzen, Iddings, and Schnell became captains of the Raiders. Who knows what could have been for Stevens football team had they not sustained an incredible string of bad luck injuries. Schnell and Litzen both tore their ACL’s for the second time and Hast missed four games after a knee injury. Other than the first five games of the season (Raiders started 4-1) the core of the team was never healthy at the same time.

Kris Klapprodt #44 assists the injured Hayden Hast #12 out to the middle of the field for the post-game meeting. (Photo Jake Nordbye/IDS)

“I feel like we could have achieved more had we not had the injuries,” said Schnell. “But, we had a lot of success. I think this year was a great stride forward for the program.”

Seven of the eight soon to be D-1 athletes compete in multiple sports. Jensen and Klapprodt have led the Raider wrestling team to the number one ranking in the state. Iddings, Hast, and Litzen have won state championships in track. Chleborad and Jensen helped lead Post 22 to the state championship last summer. (Schnell played both baseball and basketball before his knee injury). The only exception is Hamburg, who played baseball with the group in Little League before choosing to focus on tennis year-round.

“Jack was a hell of a baseball player, but he chose tennis, and it looks like that worked out,” said Brian Chleborad of Hamburg’s 111-1 record and five state titles. “It just depends on what season it is. During the summer Jarrett and Tanner are inseparable. During wrestling, Kris and Jarrett are always together. Each different season it changes, they’re like blood brothers.”

Who are the Elite Eight?

Alex Schnell: Played linebacker for the Raiders has fought through two torn ACL’s in two years and was one of two all-state selections in 2010 for Stevens along with kicker Tom Schleusener (who could become the ninth D-1 athlete in coming weeks). Schnell said SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier will have him redshirt as freshmen. He said eventually expects to play outside linebacker for the Jackrabbits in their 4-3 defense. As one of the captains for the Raiders in 2010, Schnell led the team with 70 tackles and four forced fumbles. He also had two sacks and two picks.

Alex Litzen: The physically gifted Raider wide-out also had to battle through a torn ACL this season. Even with constant quarterback shuffling (also due to injuries) Litzen pulled down eight touchdown catches and averaged over 20 yards per reception. He totaled 646 yards on 31 receptions. At 6’4 185 pounds, Litzen will bring both strength and athleticism to the Coyotes. He has a 37 inch vertical jump, and bench presses 320 pounds. He will also redshirt this fall, and says he excited about the two new quarterback recruits that USD is bringing in next year.

Drew Iddings: Is also a physical specimen at 6’6 225 pounds. At defensive end, he had 35 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2010 and was an all-state honorable mention. Wayne Iddings, Drew’s father, said USD head coach Ed Meierkort wants Iddings to put on a significant amount of muscle mass over the next couple years (30 plus pounds). His natural position is defensive end, but Iddings said there is still the possibility of playing tight end for the Yotes. Iddings is also a wrestler and a state champion high jumper for the Raiders.

Hayden Hast: A true leader. He will bring a wide array of intangibles to Valparaiso next fall. Hast is a 4.0 student and that reflects in his play on the field. Time and time again if you asked the players on the Stevens football team they would tell you Hast is a leader. After helping lead his team to a 4-1 start this season, Hast was injured in week five. In limited time, he threw for 553 yards and six touchdowns and ran for another 217 yards and three touchdowns. With his speed, awareness, and ability to hit, Hast said he expects to play strong safety for the Valparaiso next season. Hast will also run track for Stevens this spring and was part of the 4×100 and 4×200 state championship relay teams last season.

Kris Klapprodt: Is a five-time finalist, and two-time state wrestling champion. He is also the only one of the elite eight going on to compete in a program which has won three consecutive NCAA National Championships. Klapprodt is not the first Rapid City wrestler to become part of the Iowa-Stevens connection. 1994 Olympic gold medalist and Stevens graduate, Randy Lewis, was a two-time national champion at Iowa in 1979-80. Klapprodt is also undefeated so far this season for the Raiders, and along with Jensen will try to lead Stevens back to a state championship.

Jack Hamburg: Is one of the best tennis players to ever come out of South Dakota. He has a career record of 111-1 at Stevens. He has competed for Stevens since he was in the seventh grade and is a 10-time South Dakota State Tennis Champion, winning five singles and five doubles titles. Hamburg still has a year to play at Stevens before he goes onto play at Minnesota in the fall. This spring he will be seeking an unprecedented sixth singles title.

Tanner Chleborad: The 6’5 ace for Post 22 was as highly recruited as any baseball player from Rapid City in the last ten years. In 2010, Chleborad was a key contributor to Post 22’s state championship team and he also won the only game he pitched in at the national regional tournament. He went 11-3 with a 2.84 ERA on the mound last summer. He also exhibited exceptional control striking out 80 batters while only walking 12. Chleborad also starts on the Raider basketball team.

Jarrett Jensen: Is trying to become the only the second West River wrestler to win four state championships before taking his talents to Northern Iowa next fall. It is no surprise that Jensen is unbeaten so far this season, and is currently ranked number one in the 152 weight class. Jensen is also a three-year starter for Post 22.