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June 7, 2012SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- By the time Jordan Meyer wraps up his 2,000-mile journey through the heartland of the United States this weekend, the Minnesota native will have visited five college camps and met with dozens of prospective coaches and teammates.
From Iowa State to Nebraska to Missouri to Northern Illinois to Illinois, it's a long journey for a high school senior with no scholarship offers.
It's a lot of hotels, interstate highways and fast food on-the-go for a fairly unproven tight end from a city of 23,000 situated just 34 miles north of Minneapolis. A lot of time and money for a player who caught three passes all season as a junior, playing for a coach who opted to run the ball on 95 percent of the offensive snaps.
But before you write off Meyer for a lack of statistics and official scholarship offers, remember where this 16-year-old hails from: Elk River, Minnesota.
That'll tell you why a five-state summer road trip is nothing for this kid.
Elk River is home to the Elk River High School Elks, the program notorious in 2010 for temporarily suspending its entire football team in light of a hazing incident. Meyer was a sophomore that year, a personal witness to a police investigation and the eventual dismissal of four players after reports surfaced about team leaders hazing teammates with brooms and mops. The coaching staff returned after the school originally forced them to take a paid leave, but it did not matter. Meyer and the Elks played nine games in 2010 and lost them all, and head coach Mike Cross resigned at the end of the season.
"It was a really difficult thing because all those guys were my friends," Meyer said. "To see some of those guys get in trouble and see them kicked off the team, it's one of those things to learn from."
"You learn how to deal with adversity."
Without a winning season since 2003, Elk River marked a new era by hiring Steve Hamilton to run the football program in 2011. After coaching high school ball in Michigan and Georgia, Hamilton implemented an old-school, run-first offense at Elk River- and it worked. Immediately. After losing 16 straight games, the Elks finished 6-3, thanks in part to the first-year head coach's decision to line Meyer up as a blocking tight end. He grew into a key contributor and a game-changing blocker as his body matured into his 6-foot-3, 248-pound frame.
Still, Meyer averaged just one catch every three games, grabbing one touchdown. Hardly highlight-reel material. But something about his performance in 2011 prompted all these power-conference schools to contact him about their summer camps.
Maybe there's more to the story.
"His catches were game-winners for us and he didn't drop anything. And he does have really good hands," Hamilton said. "He certainly passes the eyeball test better than anyone I've ever coached. I think he's going be a really good player for somebody in the right system."
As a blocking tight end and defensive end on defense, Meyer also admits he's "not the fastest." He ran a 5.4 40-yard dash at Missouri's team camp in Springfield, and his skills may not match up with the Tigers' spread offense at first glance. That's why Meyer has another option to fit in at the Division I level.
He could add a little weight and play tackle.
"I've talked to him about that, it's something that if he wants to go D-I he's got the frame to carry 280, 290 pounds," Hamilton said. "His potential in college, he's only 16 years old. So he's just a baby. I mean, he's just gonna get better and better."
Meyer said North Dakota, North Dakota State and several D-II schools in Minnesota have also contacted him. To play at the highest level, though, he said he would have no problem switching positions.
"I love blocking," Meyer said. "It just depends on what type of system the school plays. A spread team, I'd play tackle because they don't have a tight end as much, or one of those run-and-gun teams that keeps a tight end, I'd be that guy."
All this talk about playing offensive line is speculation at this point, though. Meyer ran through drills with the receivers in Springfield and looked comfortable. He said he thought he "performed fairly well" in front of MU's coaches, at one point showing off his soft hands by catching every ball thrown to him in a rapid-fire drill.
With his giant frame, Meyer also attracted at least a little attention from the Tigers. Along with other recruits of significant interest, they gave him a gold shirt to wear during camp. Meyer said a few coaches also chatted with him earlier in the afternoon to introduce themselves, a sign they at least have him firmly on their radar.
With four camps down and only one to go on Friday, Meyer reflects on his first three years of high school in a phone interview from Illinois. Nearly two years removed from that hazing scandal, he displays a rare maturity in describing the Elk River scandal.
And it became obvious that these days, things have changed in his quiet, suburban city in the Great North.
"I actually have people come up to me now and ask me about the team and everything about that," Meyer said. "There's definitely a better vibe around Elk River and the city and the school."
As a senior, Hamilton said he's leaning on Meyer to help the Elks complete the rebuilding process and make the entire town forget all about the program's dark past. After finishing 2011 on a sour note (an upset loss as the top seed in sectionals to Moorhead), he'll have plenty of help with the majority of starters on both sides of the ball returning. But Meyer is Hamilton's top college prospect, the kind of prospect who rarely comes along at a program like Elk River.
"I kind of wish I had him two more years," Hamilton said. "I think he's going to be a focal point for us this year."
No matter how many passes he technically catches.