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Mountain Lake Area: Wolverines’ Kirk feels good about next steps

DOUG WOLTER/DAILY GLOBE Mountain Lake Area senior Carter Kirk signs a National Letter of Intent to play basketball at Southwest State University Monday. Participating in the signing are Kirk’s high school coach, Shawn Naas (top left), his parents Sheila and Tim Kirk, and his youngest sister Anna.

MOUNTAIN LAKE — His large frame folded under a small desk in a dimly-lit Mountain Lake High School gymnasium, the opportunity of a bright future radiated Monday afternoon for Carter Kirk.

Kirk, still in the midst of a record-setting high school career, signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball for Southwest State University in Marshall. There with him to witness the signing were members of his family, his summer AAU coach Ryan Reitsma, and his high school basketball coach Shawn Naas.

At 6-7, 230 pounds, Kirk possesses the size and natural athletic ability college coaches drool over. His accomplishments at Mountain Lake High School are overpowering enough to have caused at least eight Division I schools to look him over. He received full ride basketball scholarship offers from Southwest State University, North Dakota State, Nebraska-Omaha, Augustana and Winona State but in the end chose Southwest State for what he said was the chance to contribute quickly, its relative proximity to family, and the connection he made with SSU’s head basketball coach, Brad Bigler.

“It was tough (passing up Division I opportunities),” Kirk admitted on Monday. “Everybody wants to go D1. I wanted to go D1, too, but you gotta look at all the factors going into that.”

Kirk’s good relationship with Bigler, plus the fact that he practiced with some of the Mustang players during summer leagues, made the decision easy.

“You don’t want to go D1 just to go D1,” Kirk said.

Kirk started on the Mountain Lake boys basketball team in his freshman year and is a three-time all-conference performer who participated in the state tournament following the 2011-12 and 2012-13 campaigns. He was honorable mention all-state in 2012 and was a member of the state tournament’s all-tournament team. He is the career leading scorer for the Wolverines with 1,651 points — an average of 19 per game. He is the team’s second-leading all-time rebounder with 967, for an 11.1 per-game average. He has collected 211 assists and 116 steals. He comes off a junior campaign where he totaled 75 blocked shots.

In football, he was a two-way starter as a freshman. He earned three all-conference selections and in his 2013 campaign led the Southern Confederacy West in rushing and scoring. He holds virtually all the school records for quarterbacks and has 108 career touchdowns. He has 2,571 yards rushing with 47 touchdowns, and 4,524 yards passing with 58 touchdowns.

His grade point average is 3.86.

Kirk’s father, Tim, who also serves as Mountain Lake Area’s head football coach, said that when Carter was in his grade school years, it was clear that he had the size and athletic ability to be a special athlete. But he was unmotivated —unlike his older brother, Jordan, now a student at Ridgewater College in Willmar — who was not blessed with the physical gifts his younger brother possessed. With Jordan’s help, and after a motivational speech from his father when he was in the seventh grade, Carter began to respond.

While in the eighth grade, after being told by Tim that with a little work he could become a varsity athlete when he became a high school freshman, he began to lift weights in earnest. The rest is history — still in the making.

“My dad’s made a huge impact on my life. He’s my role model. In the seventh grade, I was unmotivated. I had God-given talent but I didn’t want to work at it,” Carter said Monday, adding that today he’s not content to be “a pretty good athlete.” He wants to be “great.”

“I’m very proud of him. He’s worked extremely hard and he’s gone through a lot of things to get to this point,” Tim Kirk said on Monday.

His mom, Sheila, is equally proud.

“I’m so excited for him. This (Southwest State University) is definitely the place he needs to be. I have no doubt about that,” she said. “It’s pretty humbling to believe God’s given that kid that much talent, and what he’s going to do with it.”

Carter said he has immensely enjoyed both football and basketball in high school, but several factors drew him to basketball on the college level. One was the friends and contacts he made while participating in numerous college camps and AAU summer teams, and another was the perceived physical toll.

“I love both sports a lot. I knew football was more of a grind on the body. You take more hits,” he said.

Carter, along with both his mother and father, are big fans of Coach Bigler. Said Tim: “I know (Carter) is going to be a good basketball player. I know he’s (Bigler) going to make him into a better man.”

On Monday afternoon, after the signing had taken place and most of the obligatory interviews were winding up, Carter was asked how he felt.

He smiled.

“It’s a Monday and I was actually pretty excited to come to school,” he said.

His mom, sitting a few feet away in a folding chair, immediately flashed the thumbs-up sign at the interviewer.

“That’s huge,” she said.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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