Nov. 22—NEW LONDON — When you help lead your team to the Prep Bowl, you receive the Kirk Cousins' chains treatment during the bus ride home, at least if you're on the New London-Spicer football team.
Leading up to Saturday's semifinal against Watertown-Mayer, junior running back/linebacker Lucas Swenson ordered gold chains online for NLS quarterback Blake Schultz in anticipation of a Wildcats victory.
Schultz went on to command NLS' offense en route to a 33-28 victory over the Royals to advance to the Prep Bowl on Dec. 3. He threw for 146 yards and three touchdowns on 8 of 14 completions.
Schultz embraced the bling during the team bus ride home and the celebratory fun continued on.
"He was definitely feeling the swagger," NLS junior offensive guard/defensive tackle Marshel Johnson said of a chained up, dancing Schultz. "Blake's a really humble kid, always has been. ... In that moment, he had a lot of fun."
What did Schultz have to say about the chains treatment?
"I was with it too. It was a fun bus ride," Schultz said. "We have a great team — the atmosphere at all the games, the players around me — everybody's just great."
One game away from a Prep Bowl title, Schultz never thought in a "million years" that this is where he would be sitting.
Schultz, a sophomore, was the quarterback for the Wildcats' ninth-grade team in 2021. He did not enter the 2022 season as NLS' starting quarterback.
In NLS' season-opener against St. Cloud Cathedral, junior Grant Paffrath played the first half at quarterback and Schultz played the second half.
Both Paffrath and Schultz threw three completions. Schultz had 54 yards and Paffrath had 53.
NLS head coach Chad Gustafson made the decision following the game to give Schultz the starting spot for the Wildcats.
Gustafson then moved Paffrath to tight end. He said he felt the decision was "best for our team."
"Grant's become a very good tight end and linebacker for us. It turned out really well because both kids have had great years," Gustafson said. "I thought it was best for the team. Blake really took off once he got under center."
And Schultz did.
In his first varsity start, Schultz threw for more than 300 yards and five touchdowns in a 38-36 loss against Watertown-Mayer on Sept. 9.
"Three of them were to me and he was on the money that night," said Gabe Rohman, a Wildcats senior split end/defensive back/kicker. "I was just really impressed with the balls that he was throwing and where he was putting them."
Schultz has helped the Wildcats to a 10-2 record. He has surpassed 1,500 passing yards with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Four came in his first three starts.
Gustafson has been impressed with the growth of his young quarterback. Schultz has thrown for 309 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions at the state tournament.
"Our offense has a lot of sets, motions and moving parts. Blake and I have really developed a good understanding of what's happening on every play," Gustafson said. "I throw a lot of information at him and he seems to be able to sift through it all and get the guys in the right spots. That's a lot to do when you're a first-year starter and a 10th grader, but he's a really smart kid. ... I never thought he wouldn't be able to handle that.
"He's just a real calm kid. The moment isn't too big for him. He makes good decisions and he commands the offense well. His teammates are very supportive of him. They really love him."
It certainly helps when the head coach and starting quarterback have a close relationship, one where they can bounce ideas off each other.
"Blake's very comfortable with (Gustafson). I don't think you can be uncomfortable with Chad. He's just one of the guys that brings you in under his wing," Rohman said. "They work well together and will listen to each other. If Blake sees something that Chad doesn't, he can go tell him and Chad will fully accept his answer."
Schultz comes as a multi-sport athlete, who also plays hockey. He believes hockey has helped him have success under center on the football field with his decision-making and the physicality that comes with his position.
"Hockey is all about seeing the whole ice, trying to find the open guy and making smart decisions," Schultz said. "It helps you make quick decisions with what you're doing. It's a big help."
Gustafson also thinks hockey has helped Schultz's poise and calm demeanor when he drops back in the pocket.
"When you watch hockey players, they're always moving. When Blake's back there — his presence — he's just got a great feel to him," Gustafson said. "I think that some of that comes from playing hockey, where you don't stay in one spot. Here, he's moving himself, adjusting in the pocket."
Schultz and company have the opportunity to cap off their 2022 season with a Class AAA Prep Bowl title when they face Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"This team is just great. We never quit," Schultz said. "It's really cool to be a part of it."