VALLEY CITY, N.D. — Valley City State senior Jalen Pfeifer was in high school when his love for football started to deepen.
When his father Tim Pfeifer was the head coach for Dakota College at Bottineau, Jalen would help out on game days during the fall. Jalen started on the sidelines when he was in junior high and moved to the press box as he entered high school.
“I was there on Saturdays helping him,” Jalen said. “I was sitting in the box, looking at defenses for him. I started to love not only playing the game, but the scheme of it and stuff.”
Tim coached at Dakota College for six seasons, a junior college that no longer has a football program, and also was a high school head coach for more than 20 seasons prior to that.
"He’s been in football for roughly 20 years now,” Tim said of his son. "He’s been around football his whole life."
That background has helped Jalen develop into the most prolific passer in VCSU history. A fifth-year starter, he set the program’s record for career passing yards Saturday, Oct. 9, during a 44-10 North Star Athletic Association victory against Presentation College in Aberdeen, S.D. Jalen set the record in the third quarter and finished the game with 8,809 yards for his career.
The No. 15-ranked Vikings (6-0, 4-0 NSAA) are undefeated heading into a 4. p.m. Saturday game against Dakota State in Madison, S.D. VCSU‘s NAIA ranking is the team’s highest since 2015 with it was also ranked No. 15.
“It's an awesome thing to accomplish for me personally,” Jalen said of setting the program’s career passing yards mark, “but we all know that passing yards are a combination of both the quarterback and somebody catching the ball so it’s kind of a tribute to the talent I’ve been able to have around me.”
Pfeifer surpassed Kurtis Wallis (2013-2016), who passed for 8,675 yards during his career. Pfeifer was a redshirt for the Vikings during Wallis’ final season.
“I got to learn a little bit under him,” Pfeifer said. “One of the biggest things I learned from Kurtis is, be the same guy every day.”
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Pfeifer is in his sixth season in the program after using an eligibility waiver for last season due to the coronavirus pandemic. He’s made 42 career starts for the Vikings, playing a role in 92 touchdowns with 74 passing and 18 rushing. This fall, he's completed 108 of 185 passes for 1,575 yards and 17 touchdowns with three interceptions through six games.
“Outside of the pocket that guy does some things with the football that is kind of unprecedented at our level,” said VCSU tight end Jorun Hamre. “He makes throws that you kind of just question how he did that. … He just does a great job of finding guys and being able to decode a defense.”
Pfeifer, who graduated from Rolette (N.D.) High School in 2016, was a multisport athlete in high school. He was a two-year starter at QB for the North Prairie football co-op, which included Rolette, Wolford and Rolla. During his senior season, the Cougars played for the 2015 North Dakota 9-man state championship. Richland edged North Prairie, scoring on a hook-and-ladder play with 41.2 seconds to play for a dramatic 44-38 victory at the Fargodome.
Pfeifer, who also considered playing baseball in college, said his mindset after that state championship game was, “I’m not ready to be done with football.”
VCSU head coach Dennis McCulloch was impressed with Pfeifer’s performance in his final game with North Prairie. Pfeifer completed 13 of 25 passes for 179 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed for 107 yards and a TD on 20 attempts.
“I watched him in the state championship game and you saw a different level, his competitiveness. He basically took that game on his shoulders,” McCulloch said. “He was just so impressive with how he managed the game.”
Pfeifer is relishing his final season with the Vikings. Even though he’s been in the program since 2016, the time has gone fast.
“When we are in football season it seems like everything just flies by,” Pfeifer said. “When you’re playing the game, it goes by fast, but in the offseason it seems like it takes forever.”
McCulloch, who has coached at VCSU for 28 years including 25 seasons as head coach, said Pfeifer is the most complete player he’s coached when it comes to physical ability, leadership and football knowledge.
“His leadership skills and the things that he does with leading our football team is really exceptional,” McCulloch said. ”He works as hard as our coaches in understanding each week the defense that we’re going against. ... Our guys can see that from Jalen, you know he’s about more than just himself. It’s more than just his numbers.”
Hamre, who has also been in the program for six seasons, said Pfeifer showed leadership skills from the start.
“We were able to see right away with Jalen that he was going to be a leader,” said the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Hamre. “He holds himself to a high standard during practice, after practice, even after games whether it be cleaning up a locker room or a bus. … He makes sure that everyone sees that the little things are important to not only our program, but to his values as well.”
Pfeifer said one of his favorite things is singing the “VCSU Fight Song” that the team sings after wins and other special occasions. He couldn’t put a number on how many times he’s sung that tune.
“I don’t know if I have a counter for that, but it’s been a lot and I love adding to that total that’s for sure, especially on Saturday afternoons,” Pfeifer said. “I take pride in those wins because it’s never easy. In college football there is never an easy week. I take pride in every win that we get.”
Pfeifer is No. 2 on the program’s all-time list in passing TDs (74), completions (676) and passing attempts (1,229). He has a chance to move into first place in all three of those by the end of the season.
"He’s a pretty great kid, a heckuva leader, a heckuva competitor," Tim said. "He’ll give all of the credit to his teammates first, not much of an ego on that kid. He’s learned everything the right way."