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College football: Woodbury’s Wahlo gets third national title with NDSU

Woodbury graduate Cooper Wahlo reels in a touchdown for North Dakota State University’s football team. Wahlo helped the Bison win three straight national championships. (Photo courtesy North Dakota State University)

When Cooper Wahlo looked at college options for playing football back in his senior year at Woodbury High School, he received an invitation from an unexpected school.

Wahlo was looking at playing at the University of Minnesota or another Big 10 school. However, when he received a call from Division I North Dakota State football to take a look at the program, it started a journey that culminated in being part of a dynasty.

“I didn’t even know they played football at NDSU,” Wahlo recalled.

A few years later, he helped confirm for the rest country that three-time NCAA Division I FCS champion NDSU does, indeed, play football.

Wahlo, a 2009 WHS grad, took part in a historical three-peat by the Bison, a feat accomplished by only one other program, Appalachian State, from 2005-07.

“Just to be part of it is an honor and a privilege,” said Wahlo, a 6-foot-2, 201-pound wide receiver.

At Woodbury, Wahlo was honorable mention all-state and an all-conference selection after the Royals went 9-2 and advanced to the section championship game his senior year. He recorded 16 receptions for 488 yards and seven touchdowns that year to go along with eight rushes for 83 yards and one score, while averaging 35 yards and scoring one time on seven kick returns.

At NDSU, Wahlo did a little bit of everything for the Bison during their historic run, completed on Jan. 4. He played a lot on special teams, occasionally helping on offense various ways.

“I just do my job wherever they need me,” Wahlo said.

In the 2011 season, their first championship run, Wahlo blocked a punt on against Saint Francis (Pa.) University and returned it for a touchdown. Such special teams highlights marked the Bison’s run, including their most recent title against Towson University on Jan. 4.

A blocked field goal by Colten Heagle for the Bison swung a 7-7 game in their favor. The Bison never looked back in a 35-7 rout for the national title.

“It was definitely a momentum changer for us,” Wahlo said.

A third triumph in Frisco, Texas, for the championship capped an unbeaten season for the Bison (15-0), something that had not been done at the FCS level since 1996. Long before Jan. 4, the Bison had grabbed the national spotlight, by a major FBS upset and ESPN College Gameday visit to Fargo.

Wahlo shined for the Bison when the ESPN Gameday film crew came to Fargo on Sept. 21. He scored on a 22-yard pass from quarterback Brock Jensen against Delaware State in a 51-0 rout. Wahlo and his teammates also got to go on the set and meet the Gameday crew earlier in the weekend.

“It was a crazy atmosphere during that week,” Wahlo said.

Prior to ESPN’s visit, the Bison made national headlines on Aug. 30 when they beat defending Big 12 champion Kansas State 24-21. Wahlo had a reception and a run for 4 and 5 yards, respectively. His catch came during the drive that brought the Bison within a touchdown, 21-14, during the third quarter.

“It definitely showed us that we can get the job done,” Wahlo said.

Wahlo will graduate NDSU in the spring with a degree in Exercise Science and a minor in Business. He is considering going into banking following graduation.

-Matthew Davis