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Wanzek off to Denver

Noah Wanzek wasn’t sure what to expect when he entered his first punt, pass and kick competition.

The 15-year-old from Jamestown had experience as a soccer player and was also the varsity football team’s backup punter.

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“I thought, I can pass and kick well — I used to be in soccer,” Wanzek said. “I thought I’d try it.”

He won the local competition at Ernie Gates Field in early September, just the first of three that he captured. Now, he’ll head to a much bigger stage.

Wanzek leaves today for Denver, where he’ll perform on Saturday on Invesco Field at Mile High, the name of the stadium that houses Denver Bronco home games.

Wanzek won the age group of 14-15 years old at his regional, meaning he’ll be one of four athletes his age trying to win a national punt, pass and kick title.

There’s no actual prize for winning the competition, but every participant gets to take in Denver’s home playoff game against San Diego on Sunday. At some point during the game, he may have his name announced on national television.

After winning the local competition in Jamestown, he went to the statewide meet in Carrington, and also won that. However, winners are not guaranteed a place at the regional. Each winner still has to meet certain distance requirements, not that Wanzek had to worry about that. He had the top marks throughout the entire region, which placed him as one of the favorites to win the next level.

And that’s what he did, too, beating the competition on a Saturday in December at the Metrodome, a day before the Vikings played Philadelphia. The participants even put on a short show for the people in the crowd during the pre-game. Then the Vikings beat the Eagles 48-30 in a shootout.

“We had an exhibition and just threw it around,” Wanzek said. “We had our parents and everything in the stands. I was kind of nervous. It was fun, though.”

The journey to this point has been somewhat of a shock to Wanzek, a sophomore at Jamestown High School.

“I was pretty surprised,” he said.

His high school football coach Tim Fletcher wasn’t surprised.

“He’s a very skilled athlete with a lot of ability,” Fletcher said of Wanzek. “He’s still young yet. We haven’t seen all of what Noah can do, but we’re excited. ... He’s very disciplined — the kind of kid that puts his nose to the grindstone. I’m not surprised he’s competed this well.”

Having experienced an NFL stadium already, Wanzek said he doesn’t expect Invesco Field to make him nervous.

“It’s probably the same thing as the Metrodome,” he said, “so probably not.”

Boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 15 can compete in the NFL’s punt, pass and kick competition. There are five separate age divisions (6-7, 8-9, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15) and the competition is free for organizers and participants.

Established in 1961, it’s the oldest NFL youth football program. More than three million boys and girls take part every year from July to January. It’s one of the largest youth sports participation programs in the world.

Sun sportswriter Chris Aarhus can be reached at (701) 952-8462 or