Princeton native is St. Cloud State football’s all-time passing leader: While a Princeton High student, Phil Klaphake honed his football game further these past five years at St. Cloud State University. Heading down the home stretch of his senior season, the former Tiger will finish as a record-setter on the SCSU gridron.
The Huskies are 9-1 this season after working past Minot State 38-14 last Saturday where Klaphake threw for 200 yards and two touchdowns, adding 57 yards on the ground. The night before after the walk-through practice, he was available to talk about his career.
“Truly, over the four years I’ve played quarterback here, I’ve been very lucky to have great offenses. Our coaching staff does a great job bringing in good players and then coaching us up right,” he said. “This year, we started the season really well. We had a couple games in the middle where we hit a little bit of a wall, but these last three weeks we’ve hit our stride again. We’re feeling like we’re in the right rhythm at the right time of the season. For the most part, we’re healthy.”
In the Nov. 2 45-6 conference victory at Bemidji State, Klaphake broke Keith Heckendorf’s career passing yards record at SCSU. Showing his diversity, he also rushed for a team-high 147 rushing yards, matching his career high rushing mark for a game.
“It does feel good to know that I’ve played long enough and I’ve been a part of a good enough team to break that record. By no means was I in the game thinking about breaking that record. I expected if I stayed healthy it would come at some point in my career if it was meant to come. And lucky for me it did,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s about finding ways to get wins. If that means I have to pass the ball, we’d pass the ball. If we had to run the ball, we’d run the ball to get the win. Having good receivers makes you look pretty good at quarterback and helps you put up some good numbers.”
The Huskies run a no-huddle spread offense, in the shotgun or the pistol the whole time, explained Klaphake. Typically, there are three receivers on the field at all times, but balance between the ground and air game is always the goal.
Klaphake is at 9,980 career passing yards and 2,280 rushing yards. This season, he has thrown for 2,275 yards and 20 touchdowns while throwing only four interceptions. On the ground, he’s added 622 yards and scored eight times.
“We take pride in saying we can both run the ball and pass it. Being a running quarterback is always who I’ve been as a player. Part of what drew me to St. Cloud State was I knew they allowed their quarterbacks to run, so the system fit my style of play. I think my running around makes receivers more open, too, because it forces teams to put more guys in the box. It’s kind of that whole balance thing again.”
Klaphake is on the verge of becoming only the third quarterback in NCAA Division II history to reach 10,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in a career. He is a semifinalist for the National Football Foundation Campbell Trophy, billed as college football’s premier scholar-athlete award.
Growing into a teacher
Klaphake also holds the most passing yards record at Princeton. He said a favorite memory from those days was beating Cambridge on Homecoming his junior season. The Tigers played against tough section foes back then, too, getting knocked out of the playoffs by the likes of St. Michael-Albertville and Delano.
“We were one of the smaller teams in the conference and section, but we fought hard,” recalled Klaphake.
He continued, “When I was picking colleges, I was looking for a team that at some point I would be able to fit in and play. At that point, I didn’t know it would fit as well as it did here. I was lucky enough to win out the job after my redshirt year after watching two seniors graduate that season. I just squeaked by Brad Meade of Chippewa Falls for the starting job. Not many people can play college football for four years, so I got pretty lucky.”
Klaphake is wrapping up his academics this semester and is on pace to graduate from SCSU Dec. 21. He is currently student-teaching in his health and physical education field.
“The first eight weeks of this semester I taught at Pine Meadow Elementary School in Sartell, and now I’m at Sartell Middle School,” he explained. “I’m staying busy; it’s a great experience. I love teaching. I like working with the kids and learning. It really challenges me. So when the season’s over and this semester’s done, I will be ready to join the real world and see where that takes me.”
The Huskies have one final regular season game at home this Saturday against MSU-Moorhead (1 p.m. start), then the NCAA Div. II playoffs will follow after that as Klaphake wraps up his prolific college career.
“I’m truly honored to be a Huskie. It’s been an absolute blast, and I’ll be a proud alum when it’s all done. I’m looking forward to moving on in my life, but I also look forward to coming back and hopefully watching some games here when I get opportunities to do that,” he finished. “It’s been a blast, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It felt right when I chose this school, and it’s proven to be the right decision.”