COLUMBUS -- Michael Koch, Juan Leon and Nathan Slusarski were among the catalysts for the Columbus High football team the past four years.
Together, the trio reached the state playoffs three times, including hosting playoff games the past two seasons.
As seniors, all three were two-way starters. Now, they are all headed to play football at the next level.
“It’s tremendous to see this group of guys go on,” Columbus head coach Craig Williams said. “They’re one of the most successful senior classes we’ve ever had.”
Koch and Slusarski signed with the University of Nebraska-Kearney and Leon signed with Concordia University Wednesday at Columbus High School.
“It’s something great that I get to sign with my buds,” Leon said. “It’s something we always imagined as kids growing up.”
Koch and Slusarski, who also start together on the Columbus basketball team, didn’t plan on going to the same school, it just worked out that way.
On their visits, they both got the same feeling.
“It just felt like home,” Koch said.
“I went to some other places and they were great, but it just felt right to go (to UNK,)” said Slusarski.
Koch, who will major in business in Kearney, will make the transition to wide receiver for the Lopers after a season in which he was named to the Class B all-state team as a quarterback. The 6-foot-5 senior ran for 1,335 yards and passed for 1,368 yards while accounting for 29 total touchdowns.
But Williams expects Koch to excel as a receiver.
“They’re just getting a tremendous athlete,” the head coach said. “He understands the game and when you get the ball in his hands, he can make plays. He understands the pass game from playing quarterback and he understands offenses.”
Koch, who also started at safety for the Discoverers, knows the UNK coaches will guide him through the transition.
“The coaching staff will help me along and get me to where I need to be,” he said. “They’ll make the process as easy as it can be.”
The decision where to go wasn’t the only one Koch had to make. He’s a Telegram Super Senior in basketball and a state runner-up in the 400-meter dash, but his senior year on the gridiron decided which sport he would play in college.
“As I was playing this year, it was something that I realized I wanted to stick with,” he said.
Slusarski, who played wide receiver, defensive back and punter for Columbus, will be alongside Koch the whole time.
“It’s going to be great,” Slusarski said of continuing to play with Koch. “Getting another four years out if it is going to be awesome.”
The 6-foot-5 senior will go to Kearney as a longsnapper, but could fill a number of different roles for the Lopers.
“It’s fun to see a guy willing to embrace that special teams role,” Williams said. “He’s a very versatile guy in the special teams game.”
Slusarski averaged more than 40 yards per punt this season for Columbus, but was also the longsnapper all of his sophomore and part of his junior year and planned to move back to that spot in his senior season before needing to go back to punter.
Slusarski, who will go into the pre-dentistry program, had 234 receiving yards this season on offense and a team-high three interceptions on defense while making 40 total tackles. That athleticism could lead him to all sorts of special teams roles in Kearney.
For Leon, he’ll be going to Concordia as a fullback. The 5-foot-9 senior excelled in that role for the Discoverers and Williams said it was important to find a similar position at the next level. He needed a school that has a power run game with a fullback that does the dirty work. Concordia offers all of that.
“The whole recruiting process was finding the right fit and I think he found it,” Williams said. “I think it’s a perfect fit for Juan.”
Leon, who plans to major in secondary education, rushed for 203 yards and seven TDs this season for Columbus while also making 44 tackles on defense as an undersized defensive lineman.
The coaches at Concordia made all the difference to him.
“They’re doing great things and I wanted to be a part of it,” Leon said. “When I went on a visit, it felt like they would do anything and go out of their way to help you succeed academically and athletically. That sealed the deal for me.”
He’s looking forward to the challenge of the college game.
“It’s going to be a little harder,” Leon said. “Definitely something I’m going to have to get used to, but I think it’s going to be a great experience for me.”