by Mark Lauer
The time-honored tradition of high school football plays out on Friday nights all over the country. That includes Sartell Sabre field. Fans young and old, most of them dressed in royal blue, begin filling the stands as evening darkness begins setting in. The Sartell band and cheerleading squad perform in front of friends and family, urging the home fans to get excited about the game.
Those Friday night memories are pleasant ones for three Sartell High School graduates. Rob Voshell, Paul Plombon and Sean Tillman have moved on to collegiate football these days. Their playing field is no longer the familiar gridiron along 7th Street North in Sartell. Now their home turf is at St. John’s University’s Clemens Stadium, a place commonly known as the Natural Bowl. That is where Saturday-afternoon memories are made these days. The woods that provide the football background there put on a show of its own during the fall, changing to patches of gold, orange and burgundy. In the stands the predominant color is red.
Voshell and Tillman are both 2010 graduates from Sartell, and Plombon is from the 2009 class. Their paths from high school to college were different, but for each of them the results have been positive.
Voshell played one year at the University of Sioux Falls, S.D. as a freshman before transferring to SJU. Sioux Falls is an NCAA Division II school (SJU is in Division III), and the setting there just wasn’t the right fit for him.
“Football felt like a full-time job,” he said. “I think I just realized I wanted to be closer to home. I think my parents missed one game last year because they had to go to a wedding. It’s been a pretty easy transition for me. My classes have been going well, so everything’s good.”
Voshell, a junior wide receiver, finished the 2012 season as the Johnnies’ second-leading receiver, playing in all 10 games.
Plombon, a senior on the defensive line, also took a winding road to Collegeville. He went to Minot State, N.D. as a freshman, and then after a short time at St. Cloud Technical and Community College he transferred to SJU, and there he found a home.
“It’s been amazing,” Plombon said of his experience. “It’s like, ‘How the heck did I get here?’ I’ve made some great friends here, people that I know I’ll be friends with until I’m very old.”
Tillman, also a senior defensive lineman, expresses his gratitude when he talks about his decision to become a Johnnie.
“It’s been an experience of a lifetime,” he said. “Growing up, I went to a lot of games here and I just fell in love with it. When I made my campus visit, the coaches let me know they wanted me here. I’m glad I made the choice to come here. And I love that I can walk in and visit my professors any time, and they know who you are.”
“You’re not just a student ID number on their class list,” Plombon added.
Fall semester is now just getting underway at SJU. While students are adjusting to their new schedules, football will be in full swing. But during the off season, students must continue their mental training. Being a college student in this age of instant communication via the internet, cell phones and text messaging is a wonderful thing, most of the time. Those things can also invite distraction, and each student has to come up with his or her own methods of keeping their focus.
Voshell talks about structuring his time as a means to avoid the pitfalls of too much Twitter time.
“Your attention can definitely stray sometimes,” he said. “But if you manage your time, you can get your work done.”
Plombon keeps himself focused in a variety of ways with sports (wrestling) or campus groups (Student Advisory Council, Joint Events Council).
“I immerse myself in a lot of activities,” Plombon says. “It helps. It builds structure.”
Tillman seems determined not to let distraction get the better of him, especially on days when he won’t have a class until midway through the afternoon.
“When Friday comes along and you have that 2:40 (class), you have to make sure you’re ready,” he says. “Even though everybody else seems like they’re done for the week.”
All three student-athletes credit Sartell High School, as well as former football coach John Ross, for bringing them up in an environment that stressed learning, as well as making the most of one’s time.
“Academically, Sartell does a great job in preparing students for college,” said Voshell, a business management major at SJU.
“And John Ross does a great job getting kids ready,” he added. “I’m glad I went to Sartell.”
Plombon, who is majoring in communications, and Tillman, a mathematics major, agreed.
“It (Sartell High School) prepared me very well,” Plombon said. “Coach Ross was great at making sure we were all stand-up guys.”
When asked if they still felt like they were connected as Sabres, all three nodded.
“We’re still part of Sabre Nation, definitely,” Voshell said.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.