Stenehjemís football career a weighty issue
By Eric Peterson
The Forum 10/10/97
Concordiaís Eric Stenehjem has gone to great lengths to make it appear heís bigger than he really is. Take for example this yearís Cobbersí football team weigh-in.

Stenehjem secretly tied a five-pound dumbbell to the inside of his sweatpants to augment his actual size. So the 170-pound listing you see in your Concordia football program may be a little misleading.

"Eric Kragel and I are the two skinniest guys on the team," Stenehjem said. "We are always trying to find ways to make it look like we weigh more than we really do."

Although the senior free safety is small in stature, Stenehjem might play the biggest role in Concordiaís game at St. Thomas Saturday. Both the Cobbers and the Tommies enter the contest with matching records of 5-0 overall and 4-0 in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Concordia and St. Thomas are the only undefeated teams left in the conference.

"Heís going to need to have one of his best days against a potent St. Thomas passing attack," said Concordia coach Jim Christopherson.

"This could be the conference championship game if everything works out," Stenehjem said.

But back to the dumbbell story. You might be asking how someone could conceal a five-pound weight in their pants without being found out. Itís no problem.

Stenehjem said he and Kragel wear "big, ugly and baggy" sweatpants, which made it easy to store the extra five pounds.

"The dumbbell fit pretty well in the baggy sweatpants," Stenehjem joked.

Stenehjem has also tried more traditional ways of adding size, like weight gainers. But they never worked because Stenehjem said he isnít the most avid weight lifter. Plus, Stenehjem is hypoglycemic, which doesnít help either.

"Iíve always been skinny," Stenehjem said. "Itís something Iíve had to deal with."

Stenehjemís prospects of playing football at Concordia looked pretty slim his freshman year. Stenehjem weighed considerably less than he does now. A staph infection in his left hip, which forced Stenehjem to sit out his first year of football, contributed to that.

The infection hit him just a couple of weeks before Stenehjem was to start football practice at Concordia.

Stenehjem said the initial diagnosis was scary.

"The doctors said they werenít sure what it was and they didnít know how to stop it," Stenehjem said. "It could have been anything. They said amputating your leg was an option."

The Williston, N.D., product said he weighed only 140 pounds then. And he had to walk around on crutches and take IVs twice a day for his first eight weeks at school.

Stenehjem said all eyes were on his skinny frame when he went to that first football meeting.

"He was on crutches and said he was going to play football," said senior guard Jed Seeger, who was in that same freshman class. "Everyone started laughing because he was so little."

Stenehjem, however, wasnít discouraged and fought through the infection. He was able to start practicing during his sophomore year. But the comeback wasnít easy because Stenehjem hadnít played football for almost two years.

"It was rough for me," Stenehjem said. "I really didnít feel right."

But last year Stenehjem finally worked his way into the starting lineup. He started the year as the nickel back but injuries gave him an opportunity. And Stenehjem responded picking off three passes.

Stenehjem has started every game this season, but has yet to record and interception. His teammates havenít let him live that down.

"Heís supposed to be the big field general and intercept the ball," Seeger joked. "Heís had a couple go through his hands already."

But Stenehjem isnít worried about that. Because heís playing and the team is winning. Heís come a long way from being a 140-pound freshman on crutches.

"I love the sport and I really want to play it," Stenehjem said. "I didnít see myself being a starter. Itís a dream."

BUMPS AND BRUISES: Starting senior cornerback Jeremy Zirbes should be ready to play against St. Thomas Saturday. Zirbes has been nursing a sprained ankle. If Zirbes canít play, junior Brian Carlson will take his spot. ... Junior starting wideout Chris Howell, who missed the last two games with a sprained ankle, will be available Saturday but wonít start. ... Junior linebacker Jamie Aanenson, who injured his ankle on the first play of the season against Moorhead State, might be forced to miss the rest of the year. ... Junior fullback Mark Aslakson, nursing a sprained knee, will be available for action against the Tommies.

1997 Cobber Football