Imagine being homeschooled as an only child in the California desert 30 miles south of Barstow, having a deep love for sports and, maybe ironically, camaraderie.

Football, particularly.

Imagine walking onto the local junior college football team having never once played in an organized game. No youth flag football, middle school tackle or Friday night lights. Nothing.

Finally, imagine earning a football scholarship to a four-year institution after recording just one tackle assist in two seasons wearing JUCO pads following a redshirt year.

The University of Jamestown’s Conrad Volsch did all those things. All except assisting a tackle in 2015 for the Victor Valley College Rams during a 44-28 win over Antelope Valley in Lancaster, California.

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"I was a redshirt that year,” Volsch said. “I was actually the team filmer for games. I got to travel and stuff.

"I laughed about it afterward because the only way that coulda counted is if I would've chucked the camcorder onto the field."

The boxscore gaffe is the only recorded stat for the backup defensive end and long snapper who’s basically become known as Mr. Jimmie.

‘Snapping over people’s heads’

Jimmie football wasn’t in the greatest spot following the 2017 season.

Jamestown had gone 2-9 in its final year in the North Star Athletic Association and was later forced to vacate all six victories it had earned between 2016 and 2017 to a penalty levied by the NAIA for violating player eligibility rules.

Next up for the Jimmies was the Great Plains Athletic Conference, a league that currently includes the NAIA national football champion, and coaches were turning over every stone imaginable to find players in an attempt at across-the-board improvement.

Victor Valley College football had been on the Jimmies’ radar for a little while, having won an undefeated Southern California Football Association American Mountain League championship in 2014. Victor Valley is located in Victorville, California, roughly a 10-minute drive from Volsch’s hometown of Apple Valley, and is a member of the California Community College Athletic Association.

“When we reached out to (Volsch) we were really looking at mid-year guys that could come compete,” said former UJ defensive coordinator Terry Motl, who initially contacted Volsch. “He didn’t have a ton of experience but he told us he could long snap, and we’re like, ‘Well, send us some film.’

“We gotta do something because we’re snapping over people’s heads.”

Volsch was the backup long snapper for the Rams and had next to no game film. So, the college walk-on recruited his father, Cecil, and the school’s punter to put together a video to send to the Jimmies.

“We made a little three-minute video and sent it to them,” Volsch said. “To be honest, I really was not expecting to get a scholarship to a four-year school. I was going to ride out my sophomore year at junior college … if I needed any more school, great. If I didn’t, I was gonna get my (Associate of Arts) degree and call it good.”

‘A rude awakening’

Volsch was homeschooled by parents Cecil and Charlotte, both real estate brokers in Apple Valley, from birth through high school.

But a lack of team sports opportunities never quelled a desire to someday try his hand at college athletics. A baseball tryout at nearby Victor Valley actually came first.

“I had never swung at an 80 mph pitch in my life,” Volsch said. “So, that was a rude awakening.”

Football seemed like the next natural migration, and Volsch somehow survived a list of roughly 60 football hopefuls that had been whittled to five by the start of the 2015 season. Volsch said Rams former offensive line coach Eric Wilkinson convinced former head coach Dave Hoover not to cut him one year after Victor Valley went 10-0.

From the beginning, Volsch was a guy people wanted to have around.

“Basically they ran the crap out of us, so to speak, and then we were allowed to practice with the team. Every Thursday they’d be cutting people,” Volsch said. “Coach Wilkinson stuck his neck out for me. He said it had to do with the fact I hadn’t played football ever, but I was doing whatever it took to run as hard as I could and find that little last bit of gas.”

Motl, who currently teaches business and is an assistant football coach at Wahpeton High School, said the Jimmies saw that extraordinary quality in Volsch, too. The kid who wouldn’t quit committed to UJ football before the 2017 fall semester ended, arriving on campus in January after mostly watching the Rams win 20 games in three seasons.

“He’d do whatever it took,” Motl said. “He’d practice anywhere on the offense, defense, special teams, to make sure that we could get reps.

“He showed up late one morning when we tried the morning practices, and it physically pained him. He sprinted onto the field. That’s just how much pride he took in doing everything the right way all the time.”

‘Who is that guy?’

Once on campus, Jimmie athletics instantly became a lightning rod to Volsch.

He arrived on a good weekend. Jimmie men’s and women’s basketball swept Presentation College at Harold Newman Arena, while UJ hockey finished off a pair of wins over visiting University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

Volsch’s introduction to the Jimmies was Kevin Oberweiser and Sam Johnson combining to make 11 3-pointers, McKayla Orr leading No. 6-ranked women’s basketball with 22 points and Tyson Brouwer recording 24 saves in a 4-2 hockey victory.

“All three of them were Ws and it was just a lot of fun because the crowd was into it,” Volsch said. “Most of the basketball games at junior college were losses … There was faculty at our school that didn’t know we had a football team.”

Soon thereafter, Volsch attended his first Jimmie women’s basketball junior varsity game and his legend was planted.

“I remember going up to him after one of the basketball games and just kinda asking him about his story, where he came from,” said Orr, who's currently a Title I instructor at Roosevelt Elementary in Jamestown. “He just said that he loves supporting sports and it means the world to him.”

University of Jamestown Athletic Director Sean Johnson vividly remembers Volsch’s arrival that January as well.

“I remember sitting at the scorers’ table and there's this guy behind us and he is just into it, man,” Johnson recalled. “In a supportive way for our basketball teams. I kinda turn around and here’s this kid with long hair.

“Who is that guy?”

It didn’t take long for Volsch to make his presence known. Over the next two years, he’d routinely turn up everywhere, essentially volunteering himself as property of the Jimmies if he was available to attend a game -- any game.

“It’s not just games,” said UJ women’s basketball coach Thad Sankey. “Conrad cares about every group that he’s a part of, and it’s really refreshing to know and it fires you up to see that.”

Between school, workouts, practices and football games, Volsch's commitment to supporting his fellow Jimmies at no point weakened. It grew stronger by the day.

“How do you support versus how do you just yell for a bunch of attention? Something that’s unique about Conrad is that that is the difference for him,” Sankey said. “The commitment that he has for us, that’s him doing everything that he possibly can to make us a better team.”

Various costumes, suits and face paint became commonplace. Even props, including the Jimmie flag made by UJ assistant women’s volleyball coach Jake Fulsom that Volsch proudly carried around Newman Arena last November on the night the Jimmies swept College of Saint Mary to win the GPAC women’s volleyball tournament championship.

University of Jamestown's Conrad Volsch runs with a Jimmie Pride flag around Harold Newman Arena while leading the cheers during the championship match of the Great Plains Athletic Conference women's volleyball tournament between the University of Jamestown and College of Saint Mary on Nov. 16, 2019. John M. Steiner / The Sun
University of Jamestown's Conrad Volsch runs with a Jimmie Pride flag around Harold Newman Arena while leading the cheers during the championship match of the Great Plains Athletic Conference women's volleyball tournament between the University of Jamestown and College of Saint Mary on Nov. 16, 2019. John M. Steiner / The Sun

“So all of a sudden he’s running around the court with the flag, just getting everybody going,” said Jimmie women’s volleyball coach Jon Hegerle. “He was there for our JV games … and he was cheering just as loud at our JV games as he was at our varsity games.”

“He’s honestly the best fan out there,” Orr added. “He cares about people and he’s not doing it for attention, it’s just him being a genuine person.”

‘He’s a good kid’

The night Jimmie women’s volleyball won the GPAC was extra special for Volsch.

It was the first GPAC title won at home by the Jimmies in any sport and his parents -- Cecil and Charlotte -- were in attendance.

The Volschs, who at one point had given up on having a child, attended every Jimmie home football game during their son’s tenure -- 11 in all -- trips that normally spanned Friday to Monday and included attending any other home UJ events on the calendar.

Conrad had also just finished his college football playing career, as the Jimmies defeated Briar Cliff 31-10 in the 2019 season finale at Taylor Stadium earlier in the day. Volsch never became a starter or impact player for the Jimmies, but the return on his college football investment is uniquely greater than most.

“My wife and I were married 14 years when he came along. I was 40 when he was born,” said Cecil Volsch. “He just has this zeal for life and he just loves people. He doesn't whine when he’s sitting on the bench. He just goes, ‘That’s my fate.’

“He’s a good kid.”

Volsch is set to graduate with a degree in business administration that includes a concentration in business communications. He’s served as an announcer for UJ live hockey streams, as well as an announcer for Jimmie men’s volleyball and Jamestown High School basketball.

When it came to talking about his football career, Volsch didn’t mince words. His time on the field during UJ's win over Briar Cliff was his only playing time as a Jimmie.

Conrad Volsch
Conrad Volsch

“I was probably, hands down, the worst athlete on our team. I’m not going to lie to you,” Volsch said. “I really wanted to be a good long snapper, but I also knew the guy in front of me was way better.”

That player was UJ’s Daniel Deck, the Phoenix, Arizona, junior who executed the snap during UJ’s game-winning field goal in last October’s homecoming “Mud Bowl” victory over Concordia University (Nebraska).

“He could snap it in under 0.7 seconds,” Volsch said. “I was at about 0.9 to 0.85, if that.”

But Volsch’s ironclad commitment saw him to the finish line. He wouldn’t quit on himself, his teammates or his coaches.

“That’s what’s absolutely awesome,” said UJ head football coach Brian Mistro. “His passion for football -- his passion for sports in general -- is second to none. Football has done so much for him, but you know what? He’s done just as much for Jamestown as anybody has.”

‘Definition of Jimmie pride’

When Jimmie men’s basketball competed at the 2019 NAIA Division II national tournament at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Volsch was there.

Last December, he followed Jimmie women’s volleyball to the national tournament in Sioux City, Iowa. In two short years, Volsch cemented a student superfan legacy that has profoundly impacted Jimmie athletics.

“It was a couple weeks before finals. Sure enough, he shows up,” said coach Hegerle of Volsch’s trips to cheer on his team’s eventual national semifinal berth. “He drives all the way down by himself, drives all the way back. Drives all the way down the next day. Drives all the way back.

“He did more in his two years than many people do in their life as far as supporting a school.”

But why? What guided Volsch's crazy college football path to Jamestown, which led to face-painted, front-row support of all things Jimmies and an eventual bachelor’s degree?

“If I can just be that one person that puts energy into someone and it helps to spread, that’s what makes me click,” Volsch said. “When a team loses I feel it, and when a team wins I feel it. I probably take a loss harder than the team does when they lose.”

Volsch isn’t an elite athlete, but the latter is certainly how most elite athletes approach sports. Jimmie baseball coach Tom Hager surpassed 700 career wins last month, and he’s also on the list of those inspired by Volsch’s actions and commitment.

“For someone who hasn’t gotten a chance to step on the field a ton, I just don’t know that he could be any better example for Jimmie athletics,” Hager said. “It doesn’t matter if you see him in the hallway between classes, or if you see him at a game doing his thing, he is the definition of Jimmie pride.”

Athletic director Johnson agreed. The North Dakota winters didn't seem to bother Volsch at all, and by the end of his football career he had mom Charlotte wearing orange pants to Jimmie games at Newman Arena.

University of Jamestown's Conrad Volsch shares some excitement Nov. 6, 2019, while cheering on the women's volleyball team at Harold Newman Arena. John M. Steiner / The Sun
University of Jamestown's Conrad Volsch shares some excitement Nov. 6, 2019, while cheering on the women's volleyball team at Harold Newman Arena. John M. Steiner / The Sun

“If you were to draw up a job description for the perfect Jimmie you would just look at Conrad and he would fit that mold,” Johnson said. “Just always in a positive vein, too. Yeah, he could get upset at the officials once in a while like everybody does, but nothing that I felt was ever over the top.

“The guy’s amazing. He really personifies what a Jimmie is in my mind.”

Volsch is planning to stay in Jamestown for at least the next year while figuring out career plans. Plans that would’ve played out entirely differently had it not been for an uncanny no-quit attitude and the unlikely shot at competing to be a long snapper at the University of Jamestown.

“What kind of award can he get? Because he definitely deserves, like, a Jimmie award for greatest fan,” Orr said. “Honestly.”