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MIAC Profiles of Excellence: Cory Johnson, Concordia College

floated rightby Rich Mies, CSN Mapping the MIAC Columnist

Many college-bound students look at colleges that are distant from their home, allowing them to be more independent. Others prefer to stay closer to home for various reasons. Cory Johnson decided to attend Concordia College, a few blocks from home, for a special reason. That decision set him on the path to becoming the all-time leading rusher in Cobber history, as well as a two-sport standout.

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floated leftCory’s mom was diagnosed with lung cancer during his sophomore year of high school. By the time he was looking at colleges, she already had lived longer than was expected. He knew time with her was a precious commodity. She never pressured him to stay close to home, but Cory could sense she wanted him nearby.

“I knew her prognosis wasn’t good and I wanted to be close enough to be able to see my mom as much as I could,” Cory said. “I wanted to be able to spend time with her and with the rest of my family.”

She passed away on Nov. 12, 2005, two days after the final regular season game of Cory’s freshman season. Cory had helped lead Concordia to a 9-1 record and they were awarded a Pool C berth in the NCAA Division III Playoffs on the day after his mother died.

The week before, Cory went up to Coach Terry Horan as the team was preparing for their game. “He told me ‘coach, I have to go to the hospital, Mom’s not doing good’,” the coach recalled. “I told him to get to the hospital, he needed to be there. He said he’d be back for the game, and when we got to the stadium, there he was getting ready for the game. I’ve never seen him look so determined as he looked that day.”

Cory dedicated the game to his mom. He rushed for 165 yards and the Cobbers defeated St. Olaf 49-35.

His teammates rallied around him and his family, and also around the family of Kris Peterson, whose father also passed away that weekend. “It was a pretty emotional time,” said Horan. “To have two kids lose a parent like that, on the same day too. Both were local kids from Moorhead. Here we are, trying to prepare for a playoff game, and going to two funerals. It was rough on everyone. But both Cory and Kris played that Saturday and they played their hearts out.”

The Cobbers took the field that Saturday and defeated Coe 28-14. A week later, they gave defending national champion Linfield College its sternest test of the season before falling 28-14.

Being there for his family meant a lot to Cory. The support from his teammates and coaches helped him through his grief and allowed him to make the rest of his time at Concordia rewarding. “I love Concordia because it has shaped me into the person that I want to be,” stated Cory. “The students and faculty are incredible, along with everything else about the institution. I have had an amazing experience playing two sports, along with receiving an excellent education that has prepared me for my future.”

Cory grew up in the Fargo-Moorhead metro area. “We lived in West Fargo until I was 14, and then moved across the river to Moorhead,” he recalled. He has a younger brother, Trent, who is a senior at Moorhead High, where he runs track as well as playing football and hockey.

Like his brother, Cory ran track and played football and hockey at Moorhead. He was a sprinter on the track team and was part of the 4 x 200-meter relay team that finished eighth at the State Meet his freshman year. Moorhead won the True Team State Championship in his junior year. That year, Cory qualified for the State Meet in the 100- and 200-meter dash. He placed eighth in the 100. “I tweaked my hamstring the week before in the Section Meet,” he said. “By the final heat of the 200, it was too painful for me to run.” The following spring, Cory tore a hamstring in the 4 x 400-meter relay at the True Team State Meet, ending his track season.

On the ice, Cory played center, skating on the varsity for three seasons. He received all-conference honors his junior and senior years. ”We made it to the State Class 2A tourney all three years I was on the team,” Cory said. “My junior year, we were runner-up behind Centennial and we lost to Holy Angels in the championship game my senior year.”

In football, Cory took over as the starting running back for the Spuds midway through his sophomore year and anchored the offense the rest of his high school career. Moorhead does not play in a conference for football, as it is the sole Class 5A school in the northwestern quarter of the state. In Cory’s junior year, they reached the State Tourney, but lost to Hastings in the semifinals, as they went for a two-point conversion but failed. In his senior year, they lost in the Section semifinals.

Cory was named All-State Honorable Mention in his junior and senior years. The Fargo Forum named him to its All-Area Team both of those years, as well.

He gave some thought to playing Juniors hockey after high school and went to tryouts, but was not drafted.

Many of the smaller colleges in the Dakotas and Minnesota recruited Cory, primarily for football. He liked the fact that he would be able to play both football and hockey at Concordia. The coaches he spoke with at Concordia were supportive of his desire to try playing both sports. Cory also was impressed with the educational opportunities at Concordia. With his mother’s health, he wanted to remain close to home, and that ultimately sealed his decision to become a Cobber.

floated rightHe started at running back for Concordia all four seasons, earning All-MIAC honors each year. He was named to the Second Team his sophomore year and the First Team the other three seasons. As a freshman, Cory finished fourth in the MIAC in rushing with 683 yards and was seventh in all-purpose yardage. The Cobbers posted a 7-1 record in league play, taking second place. Overall, they ended the year 10-2.

In Cory’s sophomore year, the Cobbers slumped to 3-5 in MIAC play and 4-6 overall. They bounced back the following year, placing fourth with a 5-3 record; overall Concordia was 6-4. Cory rushed for 793 yards in MIAC play, the second-highest total for the year.

This fall, Cory again finished second in the MIAC rushing race, carrying for 825 yards. He was also sixth in all-purpose yardage as the Cobbers ended in a three-way tie for second place at 5-3. For the full season, Cory rushed for 1,028 yards, becoming only the sixth Cobber to reach the 1,000-yard plateau in a season.

For his career, Cory rushed for 3,452 yards, shattering the Concordia school record in his junior year. His career total is among the best ever in MIAC history.

He has earned the praise and respect of his peers around the league and of his teammates. “Cory is someone that I look up to in many ways,” said Concordia quarterback Jesse Nelson. “His leadership, attitude and work ethic are some of the many positives that Cory brings to every situation. Cory is a great teammate on and off the field. As a player, he is one of the most explosive players I have ever played with. I always feel confident when he has the ball in his hands, he can make a play at any time. He is always very positive and a great leader. As a person, Cory is an unbelievable guy. Always there for anyone on the team, always looking out for ways to help.”

floated leftCory has been a four-year mainstay for the Concordia hockey team, too. The seasons overlap some, and that takes a toll on him, but he makes the adjustment. “I usually start skating the Monday after our last football game and am usually full gear by Wednesday, and I try to play that first weekend,” Cory said. “It takes a little while to get back into “hockey shape” but I am usually alright by that first weekend. It is kind of tough to not get a rest to heal some of the nagging bumps and bruises, but I manage. It has been especially hard because I have had a nagging hamstring injury that has bothered me since high school. I just want to get back on the ice as soon as possible to make up for what I have already missed.”

The Cobbers have struggled on the ice during Cory’s first three seasons. His freshman year, they finished 0-15-1 in MIAC play and 5-18-2 overall. Cory scored three goals and had four assists that year. They improved to 3-13-0 in league play and 7-18-0 overall the following year as Cory found the net four times and assisted on 11 other goals. Last year, they fell to 0-15-1 in MIAC action and were 1-23-1 for the full season. Cory made the All-MIAC Sportsmanship Team and was named All-MIAC Honorable Mention, as he scored seven goals with 16 assists. Thus far this year, the Cobbers are 1-8-2 overall and 0-4-2 in league action, after tying league-leading St. Olaf.

They beat UM-Crookston 9-2 on Nov. 26 to snap a 33-game winless streak. Cory, who is team captain, scored the game’s first goal, his first of the young season.

Away from athletics, Cory is an Accounting major, with a minor in Finance. He sports a 3.20 GPA and will graduate this spring. He has a job lined up after graduation. “I will be working for Boulay, Heutmaker, Zibell, & Company, a public accounting firm in the Twin Cities,” he said.

He worked an internship last summer with the Fargo branch of First International Bank and Trust, working in different areas of the bank. In addition, he took two courses over the summer. “I am currently taking an overload schedule in order to get the 150 credits accounting requirement,” he said, referring to the new requirement for CPAs.

Cory has found time to be active in the CPA Club on campus during his junior and senior years and has been involved with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. “I’ve been involved with VITA my junior and senior years,” he said. “We provide free tax help to lower income people and help in preparing their tax returns.”

He has also donated time at a middle school carnival for elementary students, along with helping out at Cobber Days on Concordia’s campus.

Cory is grateful for the way things worked out for him at Concordia. “I wanted to be here for my family and was able to do that and still get a great education,” he said, “Concordia has allowed me the chance to play two sports while still having the opportunities outside of sports. The people I’ve met here are incredible. They have been like a family to me. The guys on the team, the coaches and the rest of the Concordia community all helped me through a rough time, and helped make these four years great.”

[All photos are courtesy of the Concordia College Sports Information Office.]

The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) is widely respected as one of the premier conferences in nearly every sport competed in Division III. Year after year, the MIAC produces teams and individual student-athletes who excel in their given sport. At the same time, the MIAC schools maintain a reputation of commitment to academic excellence. This article is one in a series of spotlights on some of the young men and women who represent the league’s commitment to excellence, both in the classroom and athletics during the 2008-09 academic year.

This feature will be included in the “Profiles of Excellence 2008-2009? book which will be available for order at RDM Publishing. It will feature profiles of student-athletes from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, written by CSN’s “Mapping the MIAC” columnist Rich Mies.