Alliance’s Klayton Nordeen wrapped up his collegiate football career as a back-to-back national champion after his Morningside College football team captured the NAIA national title Dec. 21 with a thrilling 40-38 win over Marian University.
It was Morningside’s second straight NAIA national title.
“It feels good. This one is a little bittersweet because it was my last game, but I am happy I had the opportunity to win my last game ever,” Nordeen said. “It’s been a privilege to be able to play for Morningside the past four years and one of the best decisions I have ever made.”
Morningside capped off the season with a unblemished 14-0 record. The championship game was one where the Mustangs held a 21-7 at halftime and watched Marian come back, outscoring Morningside 31-19 in the second half.
Nordeen, who is a starting defensive back, said the defense played well in the first half.
“Defensively, we played well in the first half,” the senior from Alliance said. “Marion came out ready to go in the second half, but we were able to get the most critical stops when we needed them. Offensively, we were efficient nearly the whole game. Almost every drive resulted in points. We were well prepared and everyone did their part.”
Nordeen’s presence on the defensive side of the line was a major factor. Nordeen finished the championship game with eight tackles, second on the team. Nordeen had six solo tackles.
Nordeen also received some honors by the Associated Press’ Little All-America Team that was released before Christmas. Nordeen was the only Morningside defensive player on the team, earning second team honors. The other four included junior running back Arnijae “AP” Ponder and offensive lineman Garrett Tomme, who were on the first team, and quarterback Joe Dollncheck and wide receiver Reid Jurgensmeier on the second team with Nordeen.
Nordeen was also a Champions of Character Award winner, while also garnering GPAC Player of the Week honors. He was also a First Team GPAC all-conference player. He was also picked as a second team member for the AFCA All-American team as well as a COSIDA Academic All-American First Team member. Other honors include the NAIA All-American second team and a Cliff Harris Award finalist.
Nordeen said all season, the defense was solid.
“During the season, we were pretty dominant most of the time, pitching some shutouts and averaging over 50 points a game,” he said. “Rarely did any teams score over 14 if any on us. The defense really came up big a few times in the playoffs to help get the close games, but I could be biased as well since I am a safety.
Nordeen finished this season with 49 solo tackles and 79 total tackles. He finished the9year with five interceptions for 38 return yards. He had interceptions in games against St. Francis, Midland, Briar Cliff, Northwestern (Iowa), and St. Xavier.
For his career at Morningside, he tallied 158 solo tackles and 282 total tackles. He also had 11 interceptions. His best year was his junior year when he finished the year with 97 tackles.
While offensive players get the majority of the attention, Nordeen said that all season, the defense played well and helped win many games for them this season.
“ Our offense gets a lot of attention for their dominance, as well they should, but it is nice to be recognized on the defense as well,” he said. “And not necessarily personally. I believe we were top three in defense for most of the year, with the number one rush defense at varying points. It’s a credit to our seniors and coaches. We have played a lot of games by now, many of us starting for three years. Our coaches are second to none and know how to put us in ideal situations. It is flattering to be recognized on defense, but I think as a unit we don’t really pay much attention to it. We’re sort of used to being the silent killers so to speak and everyone is humble about it. I think the most important goal was to go week to week and ultimately get the ring. I think that was our measure of success on defense, more so than any awards could give us.”
Nordeen remembers many plays that the defense stood strong to win game this year. He said the defensive backs on the team are like a family and a lot of credit goes to the defensive coaches.
“My best memories are probably winning the close games. Grandview was huge. The Dbs forced a fumble to seal the game on the 15-yard line or so,” he said. “I will remember a lot of the interactions as dbs during the year as well; meetings and practice. I was able to play with my coach my freshmen year. As [defensive] coaches, they are laid back and like to have fun. We joked a lot, probably too much but I loved being around those guys. Our group of dbs is goofy as well, and some freshmen stepped up big. This may have been my most enjoyable year in terms of characters on the db squad. I will remember the championship of course, but probably more so is all the work it took to get there and playing in our home stadium. It’s been a fun season.”
College football is different from high school and Nordeen said he definitely got bigger, faster, and better.
“Physically, I have gotten 15-20 pounds bigger than high school,” he said. “Being a DB my footwork is huge and my breaks have gotten faster I am sure.”
A lot of that getting better is working hard and coaching.
“Lots of getting better is just coaching,” he said. “I can read line blocks and react within a second or so. Reading leverage and demeanor is a huge help if you get good at it. A large part of improving at the next level is the mental knowledge. Both reading leverage, blocks, demeanor, and tendencies come from playing, getting coached and film study.”
As much as he can say he got better physically, he also got better mentally, which, he said, is a big part of college football.
“I have gotten better athletically, but the biggest improvement is the mental side,” he said. “If you’re a collegiate athlete, you’re athletic, but learning all the other facets of the game is where I am most improved. And this is also where I would recommend improvement for freshmen coming in.”
Nordeen has many people to thank for his improvement from his high school playing days to the college level.
“There is a lot of people I should contribute my success too. Parents of course,” he said. “My dad has always pushed me athletically. I did three sports in high school and learned how much work it takes to be great from many coaches like Coaches Spargo, Hawk, Kramer, Lanik, Seebohm, and Trennepohl in high school.
“And then our coaching staff at Morningside is second to none. Coach Steve Ryan is like the Bill Belichick of NAIA. We have won nine straight conference championships, made playoffs something ridiculous like 17 years in a row, and many awards and accolades I’m sure. My DB coaches Coach Hicks and James, and our D Coordinators Coach Jacobsen and Turner. All these coaches at Morningside are damn good at what they do. From what I can gather they go above and beyond other coaches in the NAIA just in terms of opponent scout and preparation. Realistically, they could all be coaching at a higher level, but I think the culture at Mside is a good place to be at.”
As his college eligibility, Nordeen is getting ready to prepare for the next step and that is medical school. He said, though, he has an option to play some games overseas in Turkey this summer.
“My eligibility is up. I am done,” he said. It will be hard I think mostly when Fall rolls around next year and I am not doing anything,” he said. “I realize I have to step away at some point. My body hurts more this year than before. Just a product of getting older. I may potentially play in Turkey in the summer for like a national playoff championship thing. It’s not a European league and I don’t get paid or anything like that. But our coach has taken a few kids before and asked 10 or so of us seniors. I have never been overseas so I thought It would be fun.”
With the success he has had on the football field, Nordeen offers advice to the younger players that they have to prepare, not only physically, but mentally as well.
“College football is faster than high school. Everyone is an athlete,” he said. “The mental side of it is huge too. If you want to play, watch film and understand how the defense or offense works and why they do certain things to beat the opposing offensive or defense. Also, I would just say go where you are wanted. I see a lot of people walk on at bigger schools and most likely never end up playing or quit. Everyone wants to play, but realize you may not at first. Try to get on as many special teams as possible your first year. Stay the course, it will be worth it.”
As for Nordeen, he can now say that he won his last football game, something that not a lot of college athletes can say.
“Like I said, few people ever get to win their last collegiate game in football,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure to win one let alone go back to back. We set goals at the beginning of fall camp, and I we either achieved or came extremely close to achieving those goals, i.e. (#1 offense and defense, and obviously another title). I hope this really opens the gates for the juniors and others to start a dynasty and get to the title game every year. It’s been an honor to be part of the first two teams to win a title at Morningside.
Sidney’s MJ Johnstone, one of the region’s and state’s top pole vaulters, signed to continue her track and field career at Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minnesota.
Mark Rein writes a college column featuring local athletes at the college level. Anyone with information can contact Mark via text (308-631-0459), email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or on Facebook.