Future Coug Oertel real deal says prep coach

NEWS OF WSU's newest family member has spread like wildfire through the Badger State and has lit a fire under a now-fast-moving Wisconsin coaching staff. Indeed, Wisconsin is a-comin' running - they'll send a bevy of coaches to watch Eric Oertel play tomorrow. Doesn't matter, says Racine Lutheran's coach, because the 6-1, 185-pounder will stand by his commitment to Paul Wulff and Washington State.

Racine Lutheran coach Scott Smith said Eric Oertel (6-1, 185, 4.58) had offers from smaller schools like North Dakota, North Dakota State and Illinois State with interest coming from Iowa, Iowa State and BYU. And then there's Wisconsin.

Smith said Wisconsin wanted Oertel to come to their junior day this spring but a family commitment precluded his attendance. Wisconsin didn't pursue him after that -- until news of his verbal commitment to WSU broke.

Wisconsin, said Smith, is today "putting the heat on" and are lobbying for Oertel "to stay in-state."

"Brett Bielema called me this morning and told me, 'We're sending our coaches down to watch you play tomorrow.' I said, 'Coach, he's committed to Washington State...If he gives his word, I want him to stick by his word. That's how I raise my kids," said Smith.

SO HOW AND why does Wazzu recruit and land a kid from America's Dairyland?

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WSU requested junior film and immediately upon viewing called to tell Smith they "loved this kid." Travis Niekamp told Smith early on the Cougs were looking for "neck-up guys". And that's what Smith says the Cougars are getting in Oertel.

"Power and attitude," said Smith. "He's cut, his work ethic is unbelievable and his attitude is just fantastic. When he comes to Washington State he's going to be a pleasant surprise for the coaches and for the fans.

"If you have a son, you'd want him to be exactly like this kid."

Oertel: On and off the field
SMITH SAID OERTEL compares favorably with John Clay, the starting running back for Wisconsin who leads the Big Ten in rushing this season. Unlike Oertel, Clay came from one of Wisconsin's bigger public schools.

"My coaches have seen him play. And they've seen Eric play. And they'll tell you, Eric is the real deal. A lot of people will say, 'Ah, but Eric goes to a small school.' If you have the work ethic, and if you're good enough, you'll make it at whatever school you go to," said Smith.

NOT EVERY FAMILY can afford tuition at a private school like Racine Lutheran. There are no scholarships available for athletes.

But Oertel, said Smith, was dead set on getting the kind of education that Racine Lutheran provides.

So every spare moment Oertel has, he's working at a part time job -- and he's paying for half of his tuition.

"He's paying half of his own by bagging groceries," said Smith. "He's got school and then a lot of times he has work so he doesn't get home until 10-10:30 at night.

"That's the kind of kid he is."

AS HAS BEEN well documented on CF.C, Niekamp is a Wisconsin native, has extensive ties throughout the Badger State and the Cougs under Wulff have identified Wisconsin as one of their ancillary recruiting areas to go along with Washington, California and the West -- their bread and butter recruiting grounds. With Oertel, Niekamp and Todd Sturdy made a strong impression on player and coach throughout WSU's recruiting effort on Oertel.

"Washington State has had two great coaches come through here," said Smith. "They were down to earth, they were respectful and that's what sold their program to him and to myself. Those two coaches, of all the coaches that came in, they were (interested) in him as a person, not just as a football player.

"They sold me on their program. They told me good and bad, they're not trying to hide stuff. They were honest and that's what I want in my kids, to always be honest."

SMALL SCHOOL PLAYERS like Oertel, who comes from a D-VI school, (D-I is Wisconsin's biggest) start from behind in the recruiting process -- it's a bigger challenge for college coaches to project how they will do against the stepped-up competition in college. Smith agrees with that, but says there are exceptions, and that Oertel is one of them.

"There have been only four kids I have really (mentioned) in 16 years and said, 'Coach, you can't miss with these kids.' ..I will always be honest with coaches. Now, Eric is a kid who has speed. And he hits like a rocket...And wherever he's gone, he's been the best player on the field by far," said Smith.

While Smith is most well known for being the state's leader in rushing yards this season, Smith said his best position might well be linebacker at the next level.

  • Smith has been coaching 16 years at Racine Lutheran and has never had a losing season. With several key players graduating last year, many thought he'd have his first sub .500 campaign this year but instead Racine Lutheran is playing for the conference championship tomorrow night. Smith said Oertel's impact on offense (1,920 rushing yards) and defense (80 tackles) is a big reason why.

  • Oertel is an outstanding student with a 3.4 GPA and easily achieved a qualifying test score.

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