If this was going to be where Valdosta State senior offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder made his final stand as a college football player, he wanted to deliver a message to everyone that would take the field with him for Saturday’s NCAA Division II championship game against Winston Salem State in Florence, Ala.
“I told everyone to have it in their mind that we were going to win,” Schraeder said. “And I told myself before the game that we were not going to lose, that I would do anything it took.”
And that was enough for the Blazers, who trounced Winston-Salem 35-7 and did a lot of their damage on the ground, rushing for 207 yards and three touchdowns.
For Schraeder, a Maize native and Butler Community College product, the win was especially sweet after losing in the NJCAA title game in 2010 with the Grizzlies.
“I just didn’t want to have to go through that again,” Schraeder said. “Coming up short the way we did was difficult to deal with. Saturday, we pretty much knew we were going to win with about three-and-a-half minutes left and it was just this unreal feeling ... I took a minute to kind of take it all in.”
Valdosta State (12-2) ended the season on a 10-game winning streak for its first national title since 2007. The Blazers scored on the opening kickoff and were up 14-0 less than five minutes in. The game was also nationally-televised on ESPN.
“As soon as the game was over the crowd just came running out and it was kind of crazy interacting with the fans and people you don’t even know,” Schraeder said. “I was able to celebrate with my family right then and there and then when we got in the locker room with just the team we had our own celebration, we said a prayer and then everybody just hugged everybody else. It was a pretty cool experience.”
Schraeder spurned a scholarship offer from the defending NCAA Division II champion, Pittsburg State, coming out of Butler. He’s been named a first-team All-American three straight seasons — at 2010 on the NJCAA level and the last two years in Division II.
Former Butler assistant Tilmon Clark, now a graduate assistant at Valdosta, also won a national title.
Schraeder, considered an NFL prospect, is up for the Gene Upshaw Award for Division II’s best lineman. That award will be given in May at the Manheim Touchdown Club in Manheim, Pa.
“After (Pittsburg State) won it all, there was a part of me that was like ‘You know, you coulda stayed home’ but I always felt like (Valdosta) was the right place for me,” Schraeder said. “We knew we’d have a really good team when I was a senior and we were right.”