FARGO — It was Senior Night at Catholic Memorial High School in Waukesha, Wis., as if that boys basketball game needed any more emotion. The ultimate low point put everybody in attendance to a hush quiet, except guard Alex Oechsner.
He drove the lane and came to a jump stop, the problem being his body kept moving and his leg didn’t. Moments later, Oechsner was on the floor in pain.
“The only thing I could hear was my voice echoing through the gym,” he said. “It was a scary moment.”
Oechsner heard the pop in his knee and knew right away. Torn ACL. The standout football player for Catholic Memorial had already signed a letter of intent with North Dakota State, although the rush of medical issues that night was so demanding he didn’t have time to think about his Bison football future.
Later that night, concern hit social media.
“Praying for 24 tonight,” tweeted Matt Bergan, the athletic director at Catholic Memorial.
Thanks to NDSU assistant coach Kody Morgan, who found out about Oechsner’s injury on social media that night, Oechsner didn’t have much time to fear the worst; that the Bison would find somebody else.
“I decided to reach out right away,” Morgan said. “Unfortunately, kids get hurt and we’re never ready for it, but in this day and age with all the technology with hospitals and surgery, guys bounce back from ACLs pretty quickly.”
The next morning, Oechsner woke up to a text from Morgan, which basically told Oechsner nothing had changed.
Another potential scary moment was immediately defused.
“The most reassuring thing I could think of,” Oechsner said. “It was amazing he reached out to me the day after it happened. It definitely would have been a fear that would have set in if I didn’t see the text right away.”
Oechsner wasn’t the only Bison recruit in the class of 2021 with that potential fear after an ACL injury in his senior year of high school. NDSU commit Britton Pascoe was in his third game of the season with Bloomingdale’s High in Brandon, Fla.
Pascoe had just intercepted a pass and turned to go the other way. The knee didn’t agree with that direction. One more step and that was it.
There was no guessing for Pascoe what had happened. His mother came onto the field.
“I just thought football was over,” Pascoe said. “I blew everything, I couldn’t even walk, so I thought it was over.”
The it-was-over thoughts included NDSU. The Friday night incident came a day before the Bison played Central Arkansas in the only fall game of 2020 because of the pandemic. Pascoe was a team captain for a team that eventually finished 12-1 and reached the Florida Class 7A state semifinals.
On Sunday, Bison assistant Noah Pauley contacted Pascoe “and told me whatever the results were, they were behind me every step of the way,” Pascoe said.
The moral of the story with Oechsner and Pascoe: NDSU stayed true to its word in staying with Oechsner and Pascoe.
“I think that is more of a kids’ perception than maybe it is for us,” Morgan said. “Sometimes players get really worried. Those rumors are out there that programs drop kids and some programs have. But those are the kids we want in the program. Whether they get hurt or not, they’re still fantastic kids.”
Said Oechsner: “I’ve had teammates and friends go through the recruiting process and college football is a pretty cut-throat business. So knowing they were feeling the same way I was, there are great people here and I knew I needed to be around that. That’s how I knew this was a special place and it was definitely the right fit for me.”
Oechsner and Pascoe are both redshirt freshmen cornerbacks trying to find their way in spring football practice, which got underway last week. Pascoe is probably further ahead in recovery since his injury was in the fall of 2020.
He practiced in limited fashion last fall with what he called “some bumps in the road.” He says he’s 100% full go this spring and is back to full speed.
Oechsner did mostly individual work last fall in the name of rehabilitating the knee. He just got cleared for spring ball in early March.
“I don’t think about it, it feels good to me,” he said.
Both say they are thankful with the guidance from older players, who didn’t discard them as injured scrubs with no future. Oechsner pointed to seniors Destin Talbert and Jayden Price. Even if he couldn’t do it on the field, the freshmen could still learn it in the football classroom.
“They taught me about the position and everything I need to know scheme-wise and play-wise,” Oechsner said. “I got to help out with the defense, calling plays at practice and that helped me get a good jump on the year. Even though I wasn’t playing, I was still able to get in mentally which I think set me up well this year.”
Oechsner was on two state championship teams at Catholic Memorial. Also a return specialist, he averaged 16.2 yards per punt return. He was a sprinter in track and field, but certainly not in the spring of 2021.
By then his focus was on getting his knee back in shape for Bison football. And the knowledge the Bison were still all in.
“Both have done a good job bouncing back,” Morgan said. “I know rehab has been longer than both of them would have liked. But also we’re not making them bounce back too soon, being smart how the training staff has handled it.”
window.fbAsyncInit = function() FB.init(
appId : '609251773492423',
xfbml : true, version : 'v2.9' ); ;
(function(d, s, id) var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s); if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = "https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); (document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));