Noah Skifton’s most extensive work as a wide receiver came in his younger years as a target for passes thrown by his dad, Russ.
The Onalaska High School senior didn’t grow up as a receiver in youth football and was only thrown into the role a few times when he was a junior in high school.
He caught seven passes for 81 yards, but his focus was mainly on backing up Brayton Duin at quarterback.
That’s why Skifton, who passed for 1,884 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 955 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior, was a little surprised to hear that Division II Minnesota-Duluth decided during the recruiting process that it wanted him to play wide receiver.
“It was exciting,” said the 6-foot, 160-pound Skifton, who chose Duluth’s offer Monday night over one to play defensive back at St. Cloud and one to play quarterback at Minnesota State University, Mankato. “They don’t really know what they’re getting with me, but I’m looking forward it.”
Scholarship offers generally target players at one position, maybe two. If a player was dominant on both sides the ball, schools can see his strengths at different spots.
“He’s a talented kid,” Onalaska coach Tom Yashinsky said. “I think what Duluth is thinking by bringing him in is what he can do with the ball in his hands.
“There are so many things they will be able to do with him. They can throw quick stuff, bubble screens, reverses, double passes. He can do so much.”
Skifton was a two-year starter for Onalaska at defensive back, and his play was twice rewarded with a spot on the All-MVC first team. His play there and as a quarterback dominated his practice time and offseason workouts.
“The most receiver I’ve played was in the backyard with my dad,” said Skifton, whose partial scholarship is a combination of athletics and academics. “He’d have me run specific routes, and it was a lot of fun. Sixty percent of the schools (Division II and III) that contacted me wanted me to play defensive back, so it was interesting to hear that Duluth wanted me at receiver.”
Minnesota State, Mankato (13-1) won the NSIC and advanced to the quarterfinal round of the Division II playoffs before its season ended. The chance to play quarterback for a school of that caliber, Skifton said, was unexpected due to his height.
The Mavericks won with sophomore Ryan Schlichte playing the majority of snaps, and he is the most experienced quarterback on the roster. That would have likely severely limited Skifton’s chances of playing at that position.
Skifton, a starting guard for a young Onalaska basketball team this season, figured he’d be a defensive back in college.
Yashinsky used him there when needed and said Skifton limited Logan’s CJ Siegel, Central’s Greg Kohler, Tomah’s Kyle Kroener and West Salem’s Trenton Foreman to seven catches for 15 yards and one touchdown while covering them in man-to-man coverage. Those players combined for 143 catches, 2,398 yards and 29 TDs as four of the top receivers in the conference.
“I remember when he got the offer from Duluth because it was to play receiver,” Yashinsky said. “He loves to shut people down on defense. He likes the challenge of that.
“But I could see his interest when he talked about them wanting him to play receiver. He likes having the ball in his hands, and this gives him that chance.”