After deflating news, Folz finds new college football home

Chad Smith

Spring Grove native Alex Folz enjoyed a successful first season of college football at the University of Minnesota-Crookston in 2019. After getting significant playing time as a freshman for the NCAA Division II level Golden Eagles, Folz was into offseason workouts and studies when he got the news that no college athlete expects. He wouldn’t be playing football for Crookston again. 

The school had decided to ax its football program due to “budget challenges.” Folz was left without a team, decided to open himself up to the recruiting process once again, and found a new team. 

This time around, it’s going to be a much longer road trip from Spring Grove to his new football home. The Spring Grove high school standout is now a member of the Eastern New Mexico State University Greyhounds football team. Why decide to join the team in Portales, New Mexico?

“The first few days of looking for colleges generated some interest from NAIA schools and NCAA Division III schools, but nothing that big,” Folz recalled. “I had a couple of offers from NCAA Division II schools in southern states like West Virginia. 

“I sent some film out to Eastern New Mexico, and by the fourth day of my recruiting, the head coach (Kelley Lee) sent me an email saying he loved my film and thought I’d be a good fit there.

“Coach said they might even have opportunities for me to do more things than just offense, which I loved doing at Spring Grove and did at Crookston,” he added. 

“The recruiting coordinator called to talk to me, and they eventually gave me a pretty nice scholarship.”

He began to look into the team and program, including their facilities and liked what he saw. Folz said the multiple coaches he talked to “seemed nice.” Appropriately enough for the social media age, Folz followed several of the Greyhounds’ players on Twitter, who all seemed to enjoy what they were doing down in New Mexico.

“I thought to myself, ‘Is this what I really want?’,” he recalled with a laugh. “Minnesota is great, and I have family here. But it’s got to be nice to live in warmer weather and get out to explore the U.S. a little bit.”

Folz admits that the whole “re-recruiting” process ended a little quicker than he thought it would. 

The highly decorated high school player had a successful first year with the Crookston program, more on a personal level than in terms of team success (0-11). He felt the team had something building as a member of a large recruiting class for the Northern Sun Conference school. The team was doing off-season conditioning work when they got notified of an “emergency team meeting” out of the blue.

“I’d just finished class and was sitting with one of my roommates when he got a phone call saying a friend had heard the football team was getting cut,” Folz said. “The friend on the phone knew someone at St. Cloud State that had a meeting at the same time, and their program also got cut. We initially thought it was just rumors, and nothing like that would happen.”

However, after scrolling through social media reports and other online articles, Folz and his teammates slowly started to think there might well be bad news coming. A lot of his teammates had no idea what they were going to do if it was true, because this was the only place they could play while going to school.

“Our coaches came into the meeting room and sat at the back, which is not something they normally do,” he recalled. “The Chancellor Mary Holz-Clause stepped up to the microphone and told us she was sorry we had to find out the way we did, because they wanted to news to come straight from the administration. She also said, ‘as of today, we’re cutting the football program.’

“You could see it in the faces of every guy in the room,” Folz added. “The look in their eyes said, ‘are you kidding me?’”

What Folz didn’t appreciate was the fact that Holz-Clause told the team they’ve been trying to cut the football team for the previous 18 months. “That’s what got me,” he said emphatically. “Our coaches found out just 10 minutes before she told us (on Dec. 10). Why couldn’t they have told us as soon as the season ended (Nov. 16)?”

That meant more than 60 players had to find new colleges by spring. That’s when coaches typically want their new players enrolled so they can get to know the team and practice in the spring. That left them less than a month to find a new home.

And the school wasn’t prepared to offer a lot of extra help to the students. Folz said athletes who had questions could ask, and they’d try to assist them. However, the former Golden Eagle football players were on their own.

From a personal perspective, Folz was disappointed because he had a successful freshman season.

“I started the season playing on all four of the special teams’ units,” he said. “I was also a running back. As the season went on, I took over the punting job, returned kicks and was on the punt return and kickoff teams. 

“Halfway through the season, I moved from running back to slot receiver just because their numbers were low at the position.”

The former high school quarterback also took snaps as the backup quarterback in practice, just in case of an emergency. 

The biggest adjustment to college sports came in the classroom. He said Friday and Saturday were his busiest days for football. “That meant you couldn’t be as much of a typical college kid the rest of the week,” he said. “You really have to take your time to study and get your homework done. When all that’s done, you still have to pay attention to the game of football. It’s a big time-balancing exercise.”

Folz is heading out for New Mexico on Jan. 8, will move into his apartment, and then have a couple of days to adjust to the new surroundings. School starts on Jan. 13. Folz is leaving familiar surroundings and heading almost 1,150 miles from home. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when he thinks about the distance? 

“I’m really excited,” he said after some thought. “I’ve always wanted to get out and see the country. The only thing I’m nervous about is meeting new teammates. We had a close brotherhood at Crookston. I felt as though I could have gone to any of the players or coaches with anything. I’m hoping all those guys down there will be the same way, and I’m sure they will.

“We all just want to play football,” he said with a laugh.