Osseo's season was over, in defeat to eventual state champion Eden Prairie, and Bridgeport Tusler's exceptional high school football career was finished.
His first thought was not to cry.
"Don't show it. Be strong," Tusler recalled.
So the do-it-all Orioles star stood up in the end zone, fighting back the sadness of finality, and told his returning teammates to remember the bad feeling and use it as motivation for further advancement in the playoffs next season. For all of Tusler's contributions to Osseo's team, maturity and leadership were as important as the rushing, blocking, receiving, covering, tackling and returning.
Tusler was named the Minnesota Associated Press Player of the Year on Tuesday.
"He was kind of an equal to me," coach Derrin Lamker said. "I'd go up to Bridge, 'Hey, what play do you want here?' He's on the field all the time. I trusted him," Lamker said. "He's just a lot of fun. Just a great person."
Tusler rushed for 1,173 yards and 16 touchdowns and reached the end zone 23 times, including receiving, passing and kick returning. He also led all teams in the Twin Cities metro area with eight interceptions, rotating between cornerback and free safety. Primarily a running back, Tusler moved to wide receiver against Totino-Grace because of matchups. Both of Osseo's losses this season came to state champions.
"We ended on a good note. I wanted it to be better, but we didn't get upset. We knew we could be there too. I think we proved a lot," Tusler said.
Tusler, a key member of Osseo's defending state champion basketball team, scored 43 total touchdowns in his career. He finished with 2,260 yards rushing, 709 yards receiving and 12 interceptions. Oh, and he has a 3.6 grade point average. Tusler was both the Offensive Player of the Year and the Special Teams Player of the Year in the stacked Northwest Suburban Conference. Lamker said he has the best ball skills he's ever seen.
But Tusler, whose hope is to play for his home state's university, doesn't have burning speed. The Gophers haven't offered him a scholarship. Rutgers has recently shown strong interest. North Dakota, Northern Iowa and South Dakota are other schools he's being recruited by, and if he picks a smaller college he'll consider playing both sports.
For now, Lamker is lobbying coach Jerry Kill to look hard at the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Tusler, who said he'd love to play in the Big Ten but doesn't want to be "blinded by" that goal. He doesn't want to walk-on.
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"If all you do is recruit on a clock, you're not going to have a great recruiting class," Lamker said, referring to Tusler's 40-yard dash time. "I've probably overstepped my boundaries with coach Kill, but I want to stand up for my kids. ... Northern Illinois was built on tough, hard-nosed character kids, and that's what we need to build the U of M on. If he's not a Big Ten player, I don't know what one is."