Denfeld News

Oct. 6, 2007
Duluth News Tribune

Former Denfeld standout impresses at Augustana
By Jon Nowacki

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Before his senior year at Duluth Denfeld High School in 2003, Matt Lien made quite an impression at an Augustana College football camp: He was named most valuable defensive player.

But Augustana was a long way from Duluth, and Vikings coach Jim Heinitz didn’t know if he could land the recruit, with Minnesota Duluth and North Dakota also being considered by the strong safety.

Lien chose to travel 395 miles, a good choice considering he has since blossomed into one of Augustana’s top players. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior leads the Vikings (2-4) into today’s 1 p.m. North Central Conference home game against UMD (2-3).

“At first, I had no idea Augustana even existed, but my dad was good at looking around for places for me to play and found out about the camp on the Internet. I came down here and had a great time,” Lien said Friday. “If you look at the NCC schools, they are pretty much all the same, with an enrollment of 10,000 to 12,000 and in smaller towns. Nothing against the other schools, but Augustana is different. It’s a small, private school in a bigger town, and I liked that.”

Sioux Falls, a regional farming hub with a metropolitan area of about 220,000, provided its share of surprises when Lien got to the rolling plains of southeast South Dakota, about seven hours by car from Duluth. Warm weather and the smell of the countryside were a change.

“I’ll be talking to my mom, especially in the spring, and it will be 49 and foggy and you can’t see out your windshield in Duluth, and it will be 75 and sunny out here,” said Lien, who has made it home about four or five times a year. “But being away from home has also helped me appreciate just how pretty Duluth is.”

Lien excelled at football, basketball and baseball at Denfeld. According to Augustana’s press guide, the three-time all-conference football selection is the Hunters’ all-time leader in interceptions (11), receptions (87), receiving yards (1,503) and touchdown catches (19).

In basketball, he was a four-year starter who is the second-leading scorer in school history with more than 1,300 career points. He was named the News Tribune’s 2004 All-Area basketball player of the year.

In 2003, UMD football was in a transition period as Bob Nielson moved from coach to athletic director and former North Dakota assistant Bubba Schweigert took over. Lien remembers being recruited by Schweigert at North Dakota and then a week later being recruited by him at UMD.

It took Lien until February to make a college choice.

“I would have had no regrets about a decision to go to UMD or North Dakota, either,” said Lien. “Those are great schools, too, and I was stuck. My parents finally told me that I should just go spend time by myself, so I went downstairs to the basement and then I came upstairs and said, ‘I want to go to Augustana.’ ”

Lien, a double major with a 3.086 GPA in business communications and sports management, made a quick impression with the Vikings. He’s considered Augustana’s most talkative player starting with his redshirt freshman year in 2004. The son of lawyer Mike Lien, Matt Lien knows how to argue, says Augustana senior receiver Tommy Ellingworth, who shares an off-campus house with Lien and four other players.

“Matt always seems to get the last word,” Ellingworth said. “I’m sure that first year some of the older guys thought, ‘Who is this freshman?’ But I’m sure some of the other guys thought anyone who talks like that must have a lot of confidence. Even then, you could already tell he was a leader. He’s the type of guy who can fit in anywhere.”

Lien’s teammates and coaches think Lien could be a captain for the Vikings next year. This year, he’s second on the team with 46 tackles and is a special teams ace.

“Matt Lien is very much a football player, and he is very athletic and can do a lot of things,” said Augustana coach Brad Salem, who succeeded Heinitz in 2004. “Whether it’s special teams, from catching punts, being the personal protector on punts, being on the kickoff team, being the backup holder, to being the starting safety. He can do pretty much anything.”

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