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Former Cavalier, Shanley football coach ready for another challenge

Rod Oksendahl. Dave Wallis / Forum News Service1 / 2
Rod Oksendahl. Dave Wallis / Forum News Service2 / 2

MAYVILLE, N.D.—Rod Oksendahl figured he was done with coaching when he resigned in November as head football coach at Fargo Shanley High School.

"I had every intention of pulling the plug,'' Oksendahl said. "It just felt the right time. I actually went two more years than I'd intended when I took the job at Shanley.

"But I never say never.''

Oksendahl's departure from football was short-lived. He recently was hired as offensive coordinator at Mayville State University. And now he's on the other side of the recruiting game.

Oksendahl accepted the job with the Comets two weeks ago. After taking a previously planned trip, he started work last week. Wednesday was his first day as a college recruiter, something he'd seen many times when college coaches came to his high schools.

In the 65-year-old Oksendahl's 43 years of coaching high school football, including a 28-year stint as head football coach at Cavalier, he estimates he's had 20 to 30 athletes recruited by college football program. "That might be a little low,'' he said. "But that's a lot. I've had a lot of good kids.

"I'd give recommendations (to recruiters) about my athletes. That's where it started, to get the names out of kids who want to play, and to make sure their grades were in order. Recruiters would ask what I thought about kids. But I stayed out of (advising athletes). That's where it's the responsibility of the player and parents. If they asked, I would tell them what I thought.''

Oksendahl said he will adapt to what he saw from recruiters. One thing he will do is make it about the student-athletes.

"You have to make people feel important,'' Oksendahl said. "Some coaches seemed like they thought you should feel honored that they were there talking to you. That always bugged me. I want people to know I'm out there because of them, not me.

"I'm looking forward to (recruiting). I don't mind talking to people, especially if it's about football. I've been talking to coaches and athletes about football all my life.''

Oksendahl spent the past 10 football seasons at Shanley, the last six as head coach. His recruiting responsibilities take him to old familiar territory, in northeast and north central North Dakota.

With Wednesday having been the first day for athletes to sign letters of intent, the Comets are looking to catch up under first-year head coach Sean Thom, who was hired in mid-December.

"We're way behind,'' Oksendahl said of recruiting this year. "Most programs are starting their recruiting by at least December. We're looking at some kids now. And we're mainly looking at the kids who will be graduating in 2018.''

Thom hired Oksendahl in a roundabout way. He sent Oksendahl an email congratulating his retirement. "He asked me if I knew of anyone who was interested in coaching on his staff,'' Oksendahl said. "One thing led to another and here I am.''

After 43 seasons as a high school coach, this is Oksendahl's first time in the college ranks. He said the Comets are looking at emphasizing a run-oriented power offense. He said he feels rejuvenated by the opportunity.

"It's a kick start, definitely exciting,'' Oksendahl said. "Everything is new for me here.''