When most football players earn their state's top high school awards, they start to dream of playing for one of the large football factory colleges.
But Juneau-Douglas High School senior quarterback Brett Fairchild, who earned Alaska's offensive player of the year award last fall, has chosen a different route.
Fairchild drew interest from NCAA Division I-A and Division I-AA schools Idaho and Montana State, plus he had a scholarship offer from NCAA Division II Minnesota-Crookston, which has recruited 10 other Alaskans this year.
But last month Fairchild made a recruiting visit to a tiny NCAA Division III school, Eastern Oregon University in LaGrande, Ore. This week Fairchild chose to play his college football for the smaller school, which doesn't offer athletic scholarships.
"I really like the program, and I got to meet half the team when I was down there," Fairchild said. "I really liked the new coach and the way he got along with his players. I also liked that at the smaller school it wasn't like you were here to make money for the school, like it is at some of the big schools."
While leading the Crimson Bears to a 7-2 overall record and their first Cook Inlet Football Conference title, Fairchild earned first-team all-state honors at quarterback, in addition to his offensive player of the year award. But Fairchild also realized he had a couple of strikes against him as far as college recruiters were concerned.
For one, he came from a state where only the rare athlete gets recruited by schools from one of the major conferences. There are only about a half-dozen Alaskans playing for major NCAA Division I-A schools in any given year.
And, Fairchild is undersized for his position. Although the JDHS roster listed him as 6-foot-1, Fairchild said he's really a shade under 6-foot and weighs about 190-195 pounds. Other than Doug Flutie, there haven't been many successful college quarterbacks that size. Most big schools won't even look at a quarterback unless he's at least 6-3, 215.
"I kind of decided I wasn't going to be going to the next level after college, so I might as well find a college football program where I could enjoy myself," Fairchild said. "They really want me here. They've also got a pretty good education system here, tied in with the Oregon State system. I'll probably study natural resources or wildlife management or biology, something where I can work outside."
"They're real happy to have him there," Juneau head coach Reilly Richey said. "They looked at a lot of film of Brett."
Fairchild said Idaho and Montana State both were interested in having him try out for their teams, but only offered him preferred walk-on roles and no scholarships. Minnesota-Crookston offered him a scholarship, but Fairchild said he didn't want to go that far east. He also said he was born in Oregon and his family has been there for five generations.
While most of Eastern Oregon's schedule features small schools from Oregon and Montana, last year's schedule did include a trip to Wisconsin and the Mountaineers played NCAA Division I-AA Weber State.
Fairchild also said Bartlett running back Tyler Blewett, who was one of his main competitors for offensive player of the year, called Eastern Oregon during Fairchild's recruiting visit to say he wanted to be a Mountaineer.
Eastern Oregon just hired Jim Fenwick as head coach in November, and the Mountaineers are rebuilding after posting a 1-8 record last fall when the team's quarterbacks threw just five touchdown passes. The Mountaineers plan to scrap their option offense and go to a pro-set offense this fall.
"They've got a lot of option quarterbacks, but Coach Fenwick wants to go more like the offense we used at Juneau, with a little West Coast offense," Fairchild said. "A lot of the other quarterbacks will switch positions. There is a transfer from California State-Northridge who will be my main competition, but I talked with the coach and he liked what he saw in the film and he seems to think I've got a chance to play and maybe even start. What I like about the new offense is there aren't a lot of people who have been in it for years, so everybody's starting out at the same place."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.