ROSEMOUNT, Minn. — In addition to being many other things, Jake Ratzlaff is a die-hard, purple-wearing, Skol-chanting Minnesota Vikings fan. That is expected to make this winter somewhat interesting for him.
As he prepares for what he hopes is a long and productive college sports career, on the road to playing for a paycheck someday, Jake plans to spend the 2020-21 hockey season in — of all places — Green Bay, Wis., guarding the blue line for the Gamblers of the United States Hockey League.
He is already making plans to not endear himself to the fans of other teams that play in that community.
“I’m a huge Vikings fan. I’m bringing all my Vikings stuff and if I go to a game (at Lambeau Field) I’m going to be wearing all purple,” Ratzlaff said last week. “I do not care. I’m going to be rooting against the Packers as much as I can.”
Blue line or blitzing?
Ratzlaff is one of Minnesota’s top defense prospects, having been a captain for Rosemount High School last season as a junior, and playing in international competition for USA Hockey. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound 18-year-old is verbally committed to play hockey for the Minnesota Gophers down the road, but he may have a problem with that plan. A good problem.
A talented multi-sport athlete, Ratzlaff is ranked as one of the 40 best outside linebackers in the nation by at least one scouting service, and has gotten several offers to play top-level college football as well. While he has yet to give a final answer to which path he will choose, as of last week Ratzlaff said he had narrowed it down to essentially three options: play Gophers hockey, play Gophers football or play football for the Wisconsin Badgers.
For now, the Minnesota State High School League’s decision to not have fall football due to the pandemic means he will be on the ice in Green Bay sooner than expected.
“In a perfect world I’d be playing football in the fall, then I’d leave to play in the USHL and if there was a chance, I’d come back in the spring to play (high school) baseball,” said Ratzlaff, who is a standout catcher for the Irish on the diamond as well. “Obviously that’s all out the window, and we’re kind of re-sorting and re-looking at everything we can do.”
Alt faced similar choice
A decade ago, before he played defense for the Gopher hockey team, Mark Alt faced a similar tough choice. He was a hockey star at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, but also quarterbacked the Raiders to a state football title. Mark’s father, John, had been a football star at Iowa, then played a dozen seasons in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs. The Alt parents were not subtle about which direction they hoped Mark would choose.
“I was down in Iowa a few times. I did my official visit, I went to the spring (football) game and did pretty much every possible Iowa thing you could do before I made the call,” Mark Alt said. “It wasn’t just my dad, it was also my mom. In the month leading up to national signing day, she would wear something black or gold, or sometimes straight-up Iowa gear, every day. A little subliminal messaging there.”
But he chose the hockey rink, admitting that with his parents, things were “pretty brutal for a while” after announcing that he would skate in Dinkytown rather than call audibles in Iowa City. Alt played in the 2012 NCAA Frozen Four with the Gophers and has played seven full seasons of professional hockey — including 18 games in the NHL — over the past seven seasons.
When he was being recruited, Alt even had a few eastern colleges float the idea of playing both football (at the FCS level) and hockey.
“The Ivy League schools offered that I could do both and for some reason that seemed more do-able. When you get to the bigger programs, it’s not as viable,” Alt recalled. “The seasons overlap so much and the training overlaps so much that the only places that were open to it were the Ivies.”
Both sides of Oak?
Ratzlaff said spending part of the season playing for P.J. Fleck at TCF Bank Stadium and part of the season on the other side of Oak Street, playing for Bob Motzko at 3M Arena at Mariucci, has been discussed. Although it would be a physical challenge, and a scheduling challenge.
“We’ve talked about that, and it is an option,” Ratzlaff said. “But it’s also a very difficult option due to the overlap in seasons and the weight I’d have to put on for football and then take off for hockey. But it has been talked about.”
So for the time being, Ratzlaff will be heading to Green Bay, for the delayed start of the USHL season, and with some more time to ponder his future, and the many good options before him.
“My family and I are still trying to sort some things out, so we don’t have any definite answers,” Ratzlaff said. “In a couple of weeks I think it will be pretty clear what’s going to happen, but things can change quickly depending on COVID-19 and other things.”
In the meantime, if you are in Green Bay and you want to check out Ratzlaff in person, look for a defenseman who is built like a linebacker, and is probably wearing purple.