Small town to NFL: Isaac Fruechte hopes his story can inspire others

Charles Johnson, Matt Asiata and Isaac Fruechte meet with the Caledonia High School football team to honor the team's Class 2A championship. Courtesy Minnesota Vikings

CALEDONIA, Minn. -- Isaac Fruechte stood in the weight room of his alma mater, flanked by spindly high schoolers who'd trained beneath pictures of the wide receiver on two state championship teams, as an exemplar of what was possible.

The town of 2,868, near both the Iowa and Wisconsin borders, relies on the farming and construction jobs that form the economic framework of many Midwestern towns its size. Those jobs provide a warm landing spot for many of the young men who graduate from Caledonia's decorated football program, but the flip side of the languid career arc is a belief there's nothing more out there. "We all know what the usual is around here," Fruechte said to the team. No further explanation was needed.

"I think it's important that we kind of break out of that norm," Fruechte said. "I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but I just think you need to have kids with dreams and aspirations, and not be all about doing that. Go out and try some things. Go out and put effort into something, and if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. You come back, you go to work, whatever. But I think it's important that kids go out and try and achieve something. It's a dream in their eyes, but it very well could be reality."

Fruechte's path from Caledonia to the Minnesota Vikings' practice squad was by no means gilded. After winning two state titles for his father Carl, Isaac Fruechte played a year at Rochester (Minn.) Community and Technical College, transferring to the University of Minnesota for his sophomore season. His numbers in three years were modest -- 50 catches for 702 yards in 30 career games -- but he impressed the Vikings enough for them to sign him as an undrafted free agent, where he spent the 2015 season on their practice squad.

Last Friday, as the Vikings visited Caledonia High School to honor the school's football program, Fruechte, running back Matt Asiata and Charles Johnson formed a trio of Vikings with stories of circuitous paths to the NFL. Fruechte spoke the least, but his story was the one that resounded the loudest.

He is the second NFL player to emerge from the tiny town, following Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Karl Klug. The University of Iowa product gave Fruechte a glimpse of what was possible beyond Caledonia's limits, but he still needed the gumption to see if he could get there himself.

"I had a good guy to model myself after, and a lot of my friends were into that, as well," Fruechte said. "Whether it's playing sports, or being an actor or something like that, whatever you want to say, I think these small communities in Minnesota -- and I'm sure they're all over the country -- they really need to focus on kind of getting out of that norm. It's nobody's fault, but I just think it's something to focus on."

Fruechte has spent the first part of his offseason shuttling between the Twin Cities and Caledonia. A four-time state qualifier as a sprinter, Fruechte is helping coach some of Caledonia's young athletes in track and field while he trains for the 2016 NFL season. "We have a lot of kids here that don't compete -- they just come out to work out," Fruechte said. "We had kids do it when I was here. I don't really understand it -- why you would go through all that work but not compete -- but we're trying to break the mold."

That's a consistent theme through all of Fruechte's trips back home.