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Phillipsburg's Juenemann headed to Minnesota

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Entering the summer before his freshman year of high school, Justin Juenemann set a goal to become the best kicker in Phillipsburg High School history. After his junior year, Juenemann recalibrated his goals and believed he could kick in college.

Then, in the offseason between his junior and senior year, Juenemann said he had a "really big jump." He worked hard in the offseason and watched some practices on college visits. At that point, Juenemann believed he could kick at the NCAA Division I level.

This past fall, Juenemann was arguably Kansas' best kicker and earned first-team Class 3A honors by multiple media outlets. After a long process, Juenemann accomplished his goal when he committed to the University of Minnesota on March 8.

Juenemann said he was "very comfortable" with the coaching staff. Multiple Golden Gopher coaches are either from Kansas or started coaching in Kansas, including head coach Jerry Kill, a Wichita native and formerly Emporia State's head coach.

"It's really tough to decide on where you want to go," said Juenemann, who expects to in sports management. "You really have to break it down to a lot of different things with how comfortable you are with the coaching staff, just how you think the facilities are, the academic programs and basically whatever you want to do after college, what school best fits that for you basically. That's why I chose Minnesota. I was very comfortable with the coaches, and I developed a great relationship with them."

Juenemann, who called the decision "nice to get off my back," will be a preferred walk-on. He had multiple other preferred walk-on offers, including Purdue, Ohio State, Ohio University and Tulsa University. Juenemann is part of a strong Panther class that finished 7-2 in football, 19-2 in basketball and state runner-up in track last year.

Juenemann and quarterback Sean Newlan (Kansas State) are the first Division I commits in the 10-year J.B. Covington era, while Seth Derr signed with Sterling College for football and track.

"It's a pretty cool feeling," Juenemann said. "I really knew that we had a lot of athletic kids and a lot of talented kids in our grade."

Juenemann finished the year with 17 touchbacks, second-most in the state, according to maxpreps.com. He collected 3,073 kickoff yards, ninth best in the state and most among kickers who played in only nine games. His 6.7 kick scoring points per game stood third, while his six field goals in eight attempts tied for second. Juenemann has long worked on his craft and isn't going to participate in track so he can spend more time on kicking.

"You still have to work at it and once you think you are there, you can't just stop working at it and say, 'I made it, and I am done,'" he said. "You still have to continue to work at it when you are there and like right now, there is no offseason really for me. After football season, I continue to kick, and I continue to kick all year round."

Juenemann said playing time didn't factor into his decision. Senior Jordan Wettstien handled the kicking duties for Minnesota last fall and finished 14 of 22 on field goals and 33 of 34 on extra points.

"Especially in the Division I programs with maybe four or five kickers each team, you are going to have to work at it and earn it," he said. "You can't expect to just go in there and kick well and start and all those things. You really have to earn it in the weight room and at practice and just really just kicking on your own."

Juenemann first had contact with Minnesota last September. After several visits, Juenemann still had "no idea" where he was going on Signing Day. In the week after, Juenemann had multiple schools contact him.

"It took quite awhile to decide what my decision was," Juenemann said. "Slowly, I got closer and closer to Minnesota, but I really didn't decide my final decision until (March 8)."