by Norm Newell
Photography by Jeremy Petrick Photography
Elijah Colbeck, a senior at Kennedy Secondary School is a three sport athlete for what the sports world knows as the Fergus Falls Otters. Football in the fall, basketball in the winter and golf in the spring. You’ve seen his name in the news for each of those teams and you’ve likely seen him play, especially in football and basketball. But do you remember what he looks like? Probably not, as in football they have those helmets on. In basketball, we mostly remember the players that jump up and down on a big shot or big play, or the players who exhort the crowd when they come out on the floor. But that’s not Elijah Colbeck’s personality or style. He will rarely change expression, winning or losing, big play or a defensive gem, big shot or perfect pass, it’s all part of getting the job done the right way for him and the excitement is contained inside. So consequently when the game is done, we remember the demonstrative players and Elijah’s notoriety comes from looking at the stat sheet later…just the way he likes it…you know, low profile.
In football, Elijah was a wide receiver and defensive back. His football coach Steve Olson describes him aptly, “Elijah is usually pretty laid back, but when he steps between the lines, he plays with intelligence and intensity. He’s a quiet leader but isn’t afraid to point out defensive alignments or offensive patterns that will work in a game.” His sophomore year, Colbeck played spot duty and on special teams, then his junior year rotated at the wide receiver position where he had three receptions. He was part of an excellent team that went 7-2 on the year and was the #1 seed in their district. High results.
In his senior year Elijah flourished. Playing on both sides of the ball, he had 13 receptions and 3 TD’s as a wide receiver. Most notable was his defensive back play, where he had 6 interceptions, a record 4 of those in one game. He was named to the All-Midwest District team and was voted the Most Valuable Defensive Back in the District Red Division. All as part of a team that finished 8-1 and was the #1 seed again. High results.
When asked about the success of those football teams and especially his defensive back prowess and award, Elijah was quick to point out that it’s a team sport and teammates make a lot of things happen for one player’s success. He also credits the coaching and preparation before the games, along with legendary strength coach Paul Ratz getting the team into the weight room in the summers, not taking a day off. A prime example is the 4 interception game he had, when asked how exciting that was and how did it happen, he calmly replied, “It was fun, but on two of those interceptions the D-line was all over the quarterback and made him throw bad passes. On the other two, the coaches showed film of their expected routes, so I was just keying off of what we had prepared for.” Ah yes, low profile, but high results.
Basketball is Elijah’s self-described favorite sport, partly because he has played it the most from youth on up, partly because of the constant motion and movement of the game and because of the need to use skills and think through the action every second of the game. He’s a captain this year and is described by his high school coach Matt Johnson this way, “He is an incredibly gritty player. A terrific shooter with a high basketball IQ, extremely coachable, has great insight into the game, a great teammate. A very kind and polite kid, he’s a role model for the younger kids in the program. He’s a coach’s dream.”
Elijah grew up with a ball in his hands and comes from a basketball family. His father, Scott Colbeck, was a star player at Hillcrest Lutheran Academy, the first to score over 1,000 points in a career there. Scott played for his father, Elijah’s grandfather, Bill Colbeck, who was the school administrator and head basketball coach for 24 years at Hillcrest. Scott went on to play basketball at M-State in Fergus Falls and finished his college career at Minnesota-Morris where he scored over 1,000 points in just two years and still holds the Cougar’s team record for 3-point shooting percentage at 48%.
Scott was Elijah’s youth coach from 3rd grade until 8th grade in the Fergus Falls Backcourt Club program. High school coach Dave Rund and high school principal Dean Monke also helped coach as they had boys in that same age group. Not surprisingly, Elijah is one of the top three point shooters for the Otters, and he credits his dad’s coaching the proper fundamentals of shooting form early on in youth basketball. “Dad would stress form a lot and started us on shorter baskets to make sure we weren’t losing form trying to push up shots to baskets too high up.” That coaching worked because Elijah matched Scott’s 48% college record in 3-point shooting percentage as a junior last year with the Otters. Elijah played point guard all the way through youth basketball and credits playing that position and good coaching for helping him see the floor well, see open players, and make the right pass at the right time. Fundamentals and practicing the right way…low profile stuff.
His shooting skills and passing skills, ingrained and worked on since his youth years, have helped him become an excellent offensive player, but there is the other end of the floor, the defensive side. There, Elijah also excels, primarily from the natural athleticism of great foot movement, but also the mental side of great anticipation and knowing your defensive positions through preparation. Anticipation is defined as a visualization or realization of something to come. In sports, some players have it naturally, some don’t. As a defensive back in football and as a defensive player in basketball, Elijah has it. Combined with his quick foot movement, he can see things as they are developing and get there for interceptions and steals. He prides himself in his defense in basketball and believes it is a strength for his entire team.
The basketball teams Elijah has played on have been highly successful. Elijah again credits that to good coaching and having excellent players on his teams, but Elijah is an excellent player also and an integral part of why those teams have been successful. His youth teams were always winning teams, as Elijah says, “I don’t really remember the records, but we usually ended up in the tournament championships.” He never mentioned it to me, but I found out from another source that from 5th grade through 9th grade, his backcourt club teams went to the Pacesetter state tournament 4 out of those 5 years, and won the state tournament his 9th grade year. High results.
Colbeck’s 9th grade school team was 29-1 playing without tall, talented player Matt Monke, who had been moved up. Their only loss was in double overtime. His sophomore year Elijah played half of each JV game and played a number of minutes in each varsity game. The JV team was 17-9 and the varsity 12-14.
Last year, Elijah’s junior year, his youth team players were all reunited again after being split up over the last two years with some players being moved up. With the team chemistry restored and the unselfish play of longtime teammates, the Otters excelled and went on to a 23-3 regular season record. Colbeck missed the last third of the regular season with an ankle stress fracture, but thankfully was able to come back and play full speed in their playoff games. He helped the Otters have a magical run through the playoffs with a stunning comeback in the section final against Alexandria to propel them to the state tournament. There they defeated Waseca and Red Wing in close games to play for the state championship against perennial champion DeLaSalle, who proved to be too strong. The Otters finished at 28-4 and 2nd in the state, the highest finish ever for a Fergus Falls boys team. High results.
Life isn’t all football and basketball for Elijah. He joined the golf team his sophomore year because he enjoyed the game, wanted to be busy, enjoys competition and enjoys the camaraderie of his teammates and the players from the other team as they walk along through their holes. His coach, Ben Jurgens says of Elijah, “He has the right personality for the game of golf. He’s a competitor that holds his composure on the outside and lets it burn on the inside.”
Elijah’s parents, Scott and Debbie, say he has always been active and has always had an internal competitiveness that thankfully he can express through sports. Sports run in the family as Elijah’s older sister Caitlyn was in various sports, most notably in swimming where she was on a relay team that participated in the state swimming meet. Younger sister Ellie, a 7th grader is also an excellent basketball player, currently playing on the 9th grade team. She also played JV tennis and plans on joining track in the spring. Scott and Debbie say they have enjoyed watching their children participate in co-curricular activities. They say Elijah has been fortunate to have the teammates and coaches who have helped create the success of his football teams and basketball teams. They will be memories he can carry with him forever.
Elijah is one busy young man as he also plays in the wind ensemble band (the highest level) as a percussionist, sings in the Acapella choir (the highest level) as a tenor, and regularly attends his church youth group. Sunday mornings you can find him at Bethel Church teaching first grade Sunday school. You know, low profile stuff that will lead to high results for those kids later in life. He also works for Park Region TV videoing other high school sporting events. If there is any time left, he likes to hunt and fish.
College is in his plans, he hasn’t decided where yet — possibly NDSU or UND in the field of math. Dad’s alma mater Minnesota-Morris has recruited him for basketball but he hasn’t yet decided if he wants to play college basketball. If so, that would likely be his choice.
So let’s do a little review shall we?
Learn and practice fundamentals, acquire the necessary game skills. Listen to your coaches and prepare well for your games. Don’t waste time and energy being demonstrative about the little things. Stay focused. Keep up a weight-lifting program. Play within your team structure and be a good teammate. Enjoy your teammates and have fun. Be active in school musical groups. Be active in your church activities. Sounds like a recipe for success and high results in a low profile way.
Elijah Colbeck style. SV