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Walz, Johnson win governor primaries; to face off in fall

Boys Basketball: For Jurek, setback is a setup

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Donald Jurek rises up for a layup in a game against Central Minnesota Christian on Dec. 29, 2017. Curt Hogg / Tribune2 / 3
Willmar's Donald Jurek, pictured here throwing a pass against Big Lake on Sept. 22, 2017, later broke his collarbone in the same game. Curt Hogg / Tribune3 / 3

Donald Jurek remembers it all like it was yesterday.

The Willmar quarterback remembers the play call, the defensive formation, the pre-snap reads. He remembers rolling out to the right, the wide receivers getting jammed together on their routes, failing to get separation. He remembers taking off, crossing the line of scrimmage and meeting a Big Lake linebacker on the open blades of grass.

And then, crack.

He remembers that, too.

Jurek had been putting up video game numbers through the first three-plus games of his senior season. Defenses seemingly couldn't stop him.

Turns out, the only thing that could was a broken collarbone.

"Yeah, I knew it was bad right away when it happened on the play. I went back to the huddle and felt it," Jurek said.

In the second quarter against the Hornets on Sept. 22, Willmar's captain tried to shake it off and stay in the game for another play.

Maybe he had misheard or just jammed something or just suffered a minor dislocation. Or maybe he was trying to delay the inevitable.

Most likely, though, there was no way Donald Jurek was stepping outside the painted white lines at Hodapp Field unless he pulled himself out.

"The next play, I felt in there inside the pads and went to the bench. (My collarbone) was broken," he recalled.

The next morning, Jurek, with his promising season likely over, tweeted out a message: "A Setback Is A Setup For God To Do Something Great.."

Turns out, that opportunity may have come even quicker than expected.

Fast forward four months from the Big Lake game, and now he's part of a team that has its sights set even higher than they did in the fall.

At 18-0 following a 81-78 win over St. Cloud Tech on Monday night, the Cardinals' basketball team are the lone undefeated team remaining in Class AAA and entered the week ranked No. 4 in the Follow the Rock coaches/media poll.

For Jurek, all of that winning has eased the pain of having an abrupt end to his senior football season.

"Not losing yet in basketball has definitely helped," Jurek said. "It makes it not hurt as much, having the wins this season rather than football season."

A luxury off the bench

Jurek is the primary ball handler off the bench for head coach Matt Williams' surprising squad, a testament to the Cardinals depth.

"Other coaches in the conference have said to me that they're jealous that can I bring two seniors off the bench with Jurek and Adam Roux that can handle the ball and would start for most other teams in the conference," Williams said. "It's such a luxury to have."

For any senior, having your minutes come in reserve duty could be pose a conflict with your pride.

Not for Jurek.

"Everything is about the team for Donald. That's the real key with him," Williams said. "It's not only the team-first mindset, but you know as a coach that he's going to give you everything he's got on the floor. I've never second-guessed whether or not Donald's working hard. That translates over to the other guys on the team, too. They feed off of that."

Jurek's season averages are modest—4.0 points, 2.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game—but watch the Cardinals play and you quickly realize that he is the glue that holds the team together on the floor.

He is reliable, a tough defender and efficient, shooting 49 percent on two-point attempts and leading the team with a 2.92 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Williams calls Jurek his "sparkplug" off the bench, citing a Jan. 26 win against Sartell-St. Stephen in which the guard came up with a pair of steals and subsequent layups to stem a late push by the Sabres and give the Cardinals win number 15.

"He is the king of providing a spark when you need it," Williams said. "He has a way of coming up with a steal or a layup or a deflection when you need it. He's a guy you trust on both ends of the court in any situation."

Chemistry comes easy

The player that Jurek's basketball teammates see is the same one that naturally commanded the attention and respect of his football peers.

"With Donald, he's able to develop chemistry with his teammates so easily," said Cardinals forward Cameron Murphy, who snapped the ball to Jurek as the Willmar football team's center. "That's why, especially for Donald, knowing that football was his biggest sport and that he wanted to go onto the next level and play, seeing that and that he couldn't finish his season with us was hard."

How did Jurek, who had scored 13 touchdowns with a passer rating over 125 in three games and one quarter, handle seeing his football season come to an end?

"He handled it the way Donald handles everything: with tons of class and leadership and a positive attitude," Williams said.

In his own words: "I didn't really cry about it too much or get too sad over it," Jurek said. "I was just looking forward to coming back. There's nothing I could really do about it so I just moved onto the next time, whenever I could be back."

A lesson learned

That next time nearly came under the Friday night lights, too.

Jurek was one week away from receiving medical clearance to play come late October. The third-seeded Cardinals just needed to beat sixth-seeded Detroit Lakes in their Section 8AAAA opener, and Jurek would be back to face Fergus Falls in the semifinals.

The Lakers pulled off the upset, 41-40.

"It was so tough," Jurek said. "I really wanted to be out there for my guys. It was just heartbreaking."

Backup Drey Dirksen, also a starting forward on the basketball team, played admirably in Jurek's absence that night, throwing for 360 yards and four scores. Much like the performance of Tom Brady, who also serves as Jurek's cover photo on Twitter, in the Super Bowl on Sunday, it wasn't enough as the defense gave up 41 points.

"I think we maybe overlooked them a little bit," Murphy said.

Any chance they'll be doing that again?

"No way," Murphy said with a laugh.

That's a positive for Jurek and company, because one thing will be for certain once the playoffs begin: nobody will be overlooking the Cardinals, who won just 10 games last season, anymore.

"We knew we would be good this year, but not this good," Jurek said. "It's a lot different having the target on our backs."

Jurek's bounce back from the collarbone has gone beyond the basketball court. He recently committed to play football at NCAA Division II Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota.

"Northern felt like home when I was there," Jurek said. "I felt wanted by the coaches. Everybody was awesome there, so it just became a no-brainer for me."

Until he hits the gridiron again, though, Jurek has some unfinished business. The shot at helping lead his team to state that he so desperately wanted in the fall was taken away; now, the opportunity is knocking.

The setback, it turns out, was a setup.

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