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Buntjer ‘catches on’ with UW-River Falls football program

GOOD HANDS — Fairmont receiver Blake Buntjer (red jersey) hauls in a perfect pass from quarterback Zach Jorgensen (not shown) during the Cardinal football team’s season-opener last fall at Mahoney Field in Fairmont. Marshall defensive backs Austin Morris (23) and Bryce Lance (9) give chase on the play. Buntjer has signed a national letter of intent to play football for the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in the upcoming fall. (Photo by Greg Abel/Sentinel Archives)

FAIRMONT — Fairmont High School senior wide receiver Blake Buntjer quietly generated solid numbers on the prep gridiron during the past two seasons.

Ironically, standing a legitimate 6-foot-5 and weighing 185 pounds, the Cardinals’ main secondary offensive end somehow managed to fly under the collegiate scouts’ recruiting radar despite the southern Minnesota prep program’s renown reputation.

University of Wisconsin-River Falls head football coach Matt Walker and Falcons’ offensive coordinator/ receivers coach Joe Matheson, however, thoroughly did their homework on the sure-handed target and signed the diamond in the rough to a national letter of intent.

“River Falls will be a good fit for Blake. It’s been a good Division III football program in the past, and is looking to bounce back after last season,” Fairmont head football coach Mat Mahoney said in reference to the Falcons’ 2-8 overall record last fall. “Blake has good size, knows how to use his body well against defenders, has good hands and most importantly, understands the game of football.”

Buntjer garnered 15 catches for 226 yards and three touchdowns to help power the Cardinals to a state runner-up showing in the 2018 Class AAA Prep Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Fairmont also earned a share of the South Central Red District championship en route to an 11-2 overall record two seasons ago.

Buntjer pocketed a second-best team total of 23 receptions for 395 yards and four TDs last fall to play an integral role in the Cardinals reaching the Section 3AAA championship game. Fairmont also won the first-ever South Central Silver District crown en route to an 8-2 overall record in 2019.

“I thought his work ethic and dedication during the last two seasons were outstanding,” said Mahoney. “I believe his transition from what we do passing-wise to what River Falls runs will be pretty seamless.”

Mahoney’s words proved as true as a pass from current Fairmont quarterback Zach Jorgensen to Buntjer after taking one glance at the Falcons’ statistical charts from last fall.

Walker and Matheson nearly generated three times as much yardage through the air — 3,252 — as the University of Wisconsin-River Falls’ offensive scheme did on the ground — 1,155 yards. In fact, the Falcons actually outproduced opponents in total offense — 440.7 yards per outing to 439.1 — during the 2019 campaign.

“They definitely are a passing team, so that’s one of the factors that influenced my decision to go there,” said Buntjer. “They throw a lot of screens, but also like to launch it deep. They graduated a couple of outside receivers, including one of their top three in a 6-7 senior (Alex Herink).

“Hopefully, with some positions open on offense, I’ll get a chance to earn some playing time there.”

Oddly, Buntjer will not be alone when he steps onto the River Falls’ football field as two familiar high school faces will join him in vying for playing time for the Falcons.

Buntjer actually will room with fellow three-sport standout Caelan Sanders from Blue Earth Area High School on the Wisconsin campus. Sanders, a two-time Sentinel All-Area football selection, also will compete for a receiving position and/or a defensive back spot on the Falcons’ roster.

“I first met him (Sanders) when we played MBT baseball against each other in 2013,” said Buntjer. “He’s always been a good athlete and I’ve known him for a while, so I thought he’d be a good guy to room with.”

Ironically, Buntjer also will head to football training camp with another familiar face in Garrett Myren, who recently transferred to River Falls from Bemidji State University. Myren threw for 2,314 yards and 25 TDs to help guide Fairmont to a state runner-up honors in 2018, so he and Buntjer have a prior passing connection.

“Garrett brings a physical style to the quarterback position, and can run the ball as well as he throws it,” said Buntjer. “As a receiver, it’s key to know what your quarterback is thinking and what his tendencies are, so it could be a good reunion.”

Unfortunately, due to the limitations imposed on workout facilities, Buntjer — along with Myren and Sanders — cannot always find a place to lift weights or run routes, according to Buntjer.

“The River Falls coaches have sent workouts, and just told us to stay in shape and do the best we can without having access to a gym,” said Buntjer.

Now, Buntjer hopes that he, Sanders and Myren earn playing time on the Falcons and duplicate some of the greatness the trio demonstrated on the high school gridiron.

“I’m looking forward to meeting our coaches and new teammates when practice starts on Aug. 13,” said Buntjer. “I’m also looking forward to the challenge of proving myself against good opponents each and every week.”

Buntjer, Sanders, Myren and the Falcons are scheduled to kick off the 2020 football season against Elmhurst College at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5, in Elmhurst, Illinois.

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