On the second play of the second half of the Friday, Oct. 1, football game against Alexandria, Nathaniel Staehling made his presence known.

The senior running back took a quick pitch and darted 15 yards for a first down.

The three-year varsity starter then carried it for 5, 10, and 11 yards to march the Warriors down the field. On first and goal from the nine, Staehling bounced off a few Cardinals for a 4-yard game. Finally, he broke the goal line for a 5-yard touchdown run and a 14-6 Brainerd lead. The Warriors would eventually top the Alexandria Cardinals 27-24 in overtime to even their record at 3-3.

“We’ve been talking about getting into a sustained running game the whole year,” Warriors head coach Jason Freed said. “Nathaniel is a big strong kid. It was a real positive momentum builder not only for him, but also for our team as we move forward. It’s nice to have him to lean on and realize that there will be times when we need to give him the ball and the other night he really came out and ran hard along with Damen Bentho. Those guys really got things going.”

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Football: Warriors pull out overtime victory against Alex

Staehling finished with 144 yards on 18 carries. All but 10 of those yards came in the second half as Staehling was nursing a shoulder injury in the first half despite still playing defense.


"That’s the first thing you notice about Nathaniel is that he is very humble and honest."

— Jason Freed


“Late in the first half, I kind of hurt my shoulder and I wasn’t sure if that was going to prevent me from playing the rest of the game,” Staehling said. “I went into halftime and got my arm wrapped and I was just in my head. I told myself I couldn't be done. I had to go back out there and show who I am as a player. I just wanted to show Alexandria who I am and give it my all. I just ran hard.

“I do like to make my own holes and use my size to my advantage. I do like getting out quick and reading my blocks and then trucking somebody in the secondary, but the offensive line has slowly been getting better and better and Friday night they showed who they were. They fought hard and made holes for me. I really have to give them a lot of credit. They’ve been doing awesome and it started with our week of practice. They had all the energy. They were playing their role and that transferred into the game.”

Jacob Borgstrom, center left, runs alongside and blocks for Nathaniel Staehling, center right, as Staehling runs the ball into the end zone against Moorhead Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, at Adamson Field in Brainerd.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Jacob Borgstrom, center left, runs alongside and blocks for Nathaniel Staehling, center right, as Staehling runs the ball into the end zone against Moorhead Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, at Adamson Field in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

On the first play of the overtime frame, Staehling plowed through the middle of the line for a 5-yard gain. On second and five, teammate Jed Klang took a reverse handoff from Staehling and won the game for the Warriors.

“Nathaniel almost looks for contact and then runs really hard,” Freed said. “He’s got a great burst. He gets to that 3- or-4-yard mark and he can really turn it on. We saw it when he played quarterback, too. One thing Nathaniel has done a great job of is really setting an example of how you can develop yourself in the offseason in terms of strength and speed. He’s really dedicated himself to that and that’s why he’s able to finish his runs the way he does.”

High School Football: Warriors defense gets them 35-6 win

For the season, Staehling has 62 carries for 321 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s also caught four passes for 41 yards and a score.

Last season, Staehling led the Warriors in rushing despite playing quarterback. He racked up 168 yards on 50 carries. The move to running back was to allow Staehling to also play defense this season.

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“It was a discussion we had as a staff and you ultimately have to try to get your players on the field and the pieces in the right spot,” Freed said. “We knew he would have an opportunity to help us on both sides of the ball, but it’s hard for your high school quarterback, especially at our level, to play on both sides of the football and get through a whole season healthy.

“We knew Nathaniel was someone who needed to play defense for us so it was a logical move.”

Against Alexandria, Staehling added five tackles and a pass breakup. This is Staehling’s first season playing varsity defense, but he’s already recorded 39 tackles, one interception, which he returned for a touchdown, two blocked kicks, one forced fumble, one pass breakup.

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“I’m learning pretty quickly,” Staehling said. “We have an excellent defensive coaching staff. They’ve really been showing me the ropes. They break things down for me and help me with my reads.”

Staehling’s move to safety was precipitated by his decision to attend and play football next season for the North Dakota State University Bison.

College Football: Staehling to call NDSU home after graduation

“He’s doing well,” Freed said of Staehling’s defensive performance. “The last time he played defense was in ninth grade so he’s still learning, but he’s a natural athlete and I think being a quarterback he understands what is happening on the other side of the ball and I think that helps. Plus, he likes contact and he’s not afraid to tackle. He’s in the top five on our team in tackles and he reacts to the ball really well, but he’s still learning. It's been fun to watch him mature on the defensive side of the ball.”

Staehling has had to mature quickly in his athletic career. As a young athlete, he’s dealt with high expectations coming up through the athletic ranks.


"I told myself I couldn't be done. I had to go back out there and show who I am as a player."

— Nathaniel Staehling


Freed said Staehling has handled those expectations with humility and strong leadership.

“That’s a hard thing for a high school kid to deal with,” Freed said. “When you get expectations thrown on you as a young man, and he might say it’s been like that for a long time, he just does a good job of keeping things in perspective in regards to life and being a high school kid and understanding the highs and lows that go with it.

“He’s very humble. That’s the first thing you notice about Nathaniel is that he is very humble and honest. He loves being around his teammates and fostering those relationships. I’ve never seen him put himself above anybody else and that’s a credit to his leadership and being a senior leader for us. I think he manages it very well. He keeps things in check.”

Staehling said he just reminds himself who he is and works toward making himself a better person, athlete and leader.

Brainerd's Nathaniel Staehling runs with the ball against Coon Rapids Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, at Brainerd. 
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Brainerd's Nathaniel Staehling runs with the ball against Coon Rapids Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, at Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“I just stay within myself,” Staehling said. “It’s not really a certain way I do that. I have just been blessed with a way of blocking all that noise out of my brain. It comes in one side and goes out the other. I have my goals and I focus on those. Those high expectations are a distraction and they’re not going to help me. I just try to stay positive.

“Football is a brotherhood and our motto is ‘carry the shield.’ The team needs me and I need the team and we just rely on each other. A good team has good relationships and good connections and I feel like that is really there this year.”



JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 855-5856 or jeremy.millsop@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.



Other notable performances

Molly Hagelie, girls soccer, scored two goals against Rocori.

Gabby Eckman, girls soccer, scored two goals against Rocori. She added a goal in a shootout with Moorhead.

Meghan Smith, volleyball, finished with 43 kills, 46 digs, eight blocks and 14 ace serves last week.

Mya Tautges, swimming and diving, won the 50- and 100-yard freestyles and was part of the winning 200 free relay.

Jed Klang, football, rushed for 27 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning overtime score against Alexandria.

Hala Davis, volleyball, finished with 42 kills, 22 digs, 20 blocks and five ace serves last week.



Nathaniel Staehling

Nathaniel Staehling
Nathaniel StaehlingKelly Humphrey

Sport: Football

Position: Running back and safety

Year: Senior

Age: 17

Height: 6-foot-2

Career highlight: An 80-yard touchdown run against Moorhead during his sophomore year.

Other sports: Baseball

Grade-point average: 3.8

Favorite class: History

Favorite food: Steak

Favorite movie: “The Count of Monte Cristo”

Favorite TV show: “The Vampire Diaries”

Favorite website or app: Twitter

Favorite restaurant: El Tequila

Future plans: Attend North Dakota State University and play football

Favorite athlete: Arizona Cardinals linebacker Isaiah Simmons

Parents: Joel and Erica Staehling