MOORHEAD-Concordia senior Hank Van Liew played football for a Washington high school named after a mountain, which took hours to hike to the top. It only takes seconds to climb to the highest natural point in Moorhead.
Olin Hill, which is on the Concordia campus, is touted by the school as the highest topography in the city.
"That was a little bit of a reality check for me how flat it is here," Van Liew said with a laugh Thursday, Aug. 18, during the school's annual football media day. "It's a little mound."
Van Liew is from Snoqualmie, which is about 30 miles east of Seattle, and played football at Mount Si High School, which is located near the base of Mount Si, which has an elevation of more than 4,000 feet at its highest point.
That created a scenic backdrop for Van Liew's prep home field.
"Right in the background is a full mountain," Van Liew said. "We've got a bunch of mountains around us."
The Cobbers and Van Liew are hoping to climb to the top of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference mountain for the first time since 2004. That's the last time Concordia won the conference championship. The Cobbers tied for third in the MIAC last fall behind Division III runner-up St. Thomas and St. John's.
Concordia returns three starters on offense and six on defense, opening the season at the University of Jamestown on Sept. 3. After two nonconference games, the Cobbers start the MIAC season on Sept. 17 at Bethel.
"We have a lot of guys that have been waiting for their opportunity within our upperclassmen ranks," said Concordia head coach Terry Horan. "They're going to get their shot to be a starter. ... For us it's just another let's reload and let's get after this thing."
The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Van Liew is one of those upper classmen who will get a chance to start this fall. Van Liew has seen time at middle linebacker behind Erik Bye and Levi Hintermeister the past couple seasons. Bye and Hintermeister were the top two tacklers on the team last season, both earning All-MIAC honors.
Van Liew finished sixth on the team with 41 tackles.
"He's got such great instincts, instincts that we can't coach, and he's a great leader," Horan said. "It was a landslide vote for him to be a captain by his peers."
Van Liew found out about Concordia through a recruiting website and his interest grew from there. He also considered Linfield (Ore.), Pacific Lutheran (Wash.) and Elmhurst (Ill.) coming out of high school.
Even though it wasn't close to home, Van Liew said the Cobbers felt like the right choice.
"I took a couple visits and really liked it," Van Liew said. "I felt like if I didn't come here I would regret it. It was definitely a leap of faith. It ended up working out really well."
Van Liew is expected to anchor a linebacker group that has minimal game experience. Cobbers senior safety Matt Ahrndt thinks Van Liew has the right makeup to fill that role.
"He's always going a hundred miles an hour," said Ahrndt, who was an All-MIAC selection last season. "He's always the most physical guy on the field. Wherever he's at there's going to be a collision. ... The younger guys are really looking to him to be that leader."