Brothers John and Leo Chenal poised for a big year at Grantsburg
Marty Seeger|Staff writer
GRANTSBURG – Football recruiting has been rampant in this tiny corner of Northwestern Wisconsin over the past several months, with as many as four local athletes receiving Division 1 scholarship offers. Coaches from several Big Ten campuses and countless others have visited Unity and Grantsburg.
Unity’s Cody Ince was the first in the area to make a verbal commitment to Iowa, and teammate Logan Hendrickson is still in the deciding process from a number of interested schools, and for Grantsburg’s John Chenal, it was just a matter of time before he narrowed his decision. Last weekend Chenal chose the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks, and was happy to have finally made the decision as he enters his senior season with the Pirates.
“Now I can just get the whole recruiting stuff out of the way and focus on my team right now and what I’ve got to do for the season, so that’s really nice to get that off my shoulders,” Chenal said.
And with all the challenges that came with the recruiting process, including many campus visits, phone calls and training on the side, Chenal was faced with an unexpected setback over the summer. While vacationing with family in Missouri, he was swimming with his brothers and came upon a snake along the bank.
“Let’s just say it was really stupid of me,” Chenal said, describing how he had reached for the snake to try and grab it, but it turned on him and bit into his right index finger.
The snake, a venomous copperhead, severely damaged his finger, which swelled to several times its own size. The swelling spread through his hand and arm, all the way to the shoulder. After having surgery to relieve the pressure from the swelling, doctors discovered the venom had eaten away a portion of the flesh, along with tendons and nerves to the top of the finger. As a result, he’s going in this week to have half of the finger amputated. Even for a 6-foot-3-inch, 220-pound linebacker, Chenal admitted it was a painful experience over the first 24 hours.
The incident could have turned out much worse, but Chenal will be back on the field as the Pirates and other area teams enter their first week of practice. He said he is still able to get in the weight room, although he is limited slightly. He doesn’t think it will sideline him for any games, or practices after taking a couple days rest after the amputation.
“My middle finger should do everything that the other one can and I’ve been playing some in a passing league and it hasn’t really affected me at all, so I’m doing better than ever,” Chenal said.
After a heartbreaking loss to Eau Claire Regis last year in the playoffs, Chenal is more focused than ever about his senior year, and more than happy to have made the decision to play at UND. Luck athlete Noah Mortel is also at UND. He redshirted last year as a freshman.
Chenal said he took a visit to UND last week and finalized his decision to play for the Fighting Hawks based on a number of factors. The small-town feel, coaching staff and educational opportunity were just a few.
“The coaches … they’re down to earth. They want to know what’s going on in your life and just not all business. All football. They really went out of their way to treat you like a human being and not just a machine. That’s not something you really see with Madison, Iowa or Minnesota,” said Chenal.
At UND, Chenal was thinking he’d be playing at linebacker, but coaches are looking for him to possibly play at fullback, running back or tight end. The UND football program has seen a lot of success under a new coaching staff over the past four years. They were champions of the Big Sky Conference last year and are picked by two polls to do it again. Along with trying to be successful at football, Chenal is also excited for the educational opportunities, citing their accredited business programs, which he would like to pursue.
“I wanna go play football but I also want to get what’s more important … an education out of it, and a career. So I think overall this is the best choice for me for both those areas, getting a great education,” Chenal said.
Leo Chenal drawing big schools too
John Chenal certainly hasn’t been alone in the recruiting process. His brother Leo, who is entering his junior year at Grantsburg, has drawn plenty of interest. Both have gone together on their visits to Madison, Iowa, Minnesota and other schools, and John Chenal says it will eventually be up to Leo to decide.
“He’s looking at going with me, because there’s nothing like playing with your brother, but he got started earlier, exposurewise,” John Chenal said.
The pair also have another brother, Gabe, who is a sophomore this year, and it’s clear on the field, whether it’s basketball or football, that there’s a special bond between the brothers.
“We know what we’re going to do before we do it. We just have that connection out there that you can’t really have with anyone else but your brother. And that’s really special to have. And I’m really glad I’ve had the opportunity of playing with all my brothers. It’s just a great experience,” John Chenal said.
That being said, the interest in Leo has grown. The UW-Badgers are currently listing him as one of their top recruits.
“Wisconsin had high talks about Leo after we went to camp. He’s their No. 1 player in Wisconsin, in his class that they’re looking at. They said if he does well in the first few games they’d be offering him a scholarship. Full ride.”
Even with the added interest it’s clear the main focus is on the season ahead for both, especially for John, as he enters his final high school season.
“Senior year is a big year. I’m really excited to get back out there and hopefully make a trip to state this year.”