Jake Youso's dream was always to play for the Gophers. His grandfather, Frank Youso, played football at the U.
But Jake's sport at International Falls was hockey and he committed to the Gophers hockey program at age 16. "When I committed it looked like the perfect choice," Youso said.
The Gophers recruited him hard at one time. He signed a national letter of intent in November of 2008, a couple months into his first season of juniors at Des Moines of the USHL.
Recently, just before his third season of junior hockey, he de-committed from the U but still longs to play Division I hockey.
So what happened?
As a senior at The Falls, he led the Iron Range Conference in scoring with 33 goals, 36 assists for 69 points and was a second-team all-state pick. The Duluth News-Tribune named him its player of the year.
Then he had a rough season at Des Moines. "I got the life sucked out of me," Youso said.
"I came in as a kid with high expectations," Youso said. "I was still young and not ready. I ended up playing defense half of the year. From a U perspective, I took a step back. I tried my best to play there but there was not much success that year. For myself or the team."
Youso had one goal and four assists for Des Moines.
He left there and last season played for the Owatonna Express of the North American Hockey League. There he had 23 goals and 26 asissts for 49 points in 62 games. He was the Express' second-leading scorer.
"The NAHL is a league that is not as deep," said Youso, listed at 6-0, 185 by the Exress last season, "but it's a good league and basically I got the ice time. Got to play on special teams and made a 20-plus jump in goals. I was always a hard worker off the ice and [Owatonna] translated better for me."
This season he plans to return to the USHL. He participated in Waterloo's tryouts last month and was one of four older players --- with birthdays in 1990 -- to make the team. USHL teams can have four 20-year-olds at most.
"I hope to have a good year," said Youso, who is especially looking forward to the USHL's Fall Classic in Sioux City, Iowa from Sept. 22-25.
"All 16 teams will be there and play three games," he said. "Every college team will have a scout there and every NHL scout will be there. I hope to impress someone."
Youso said he understands why it was so hard for Gophers coach Don Lucia to bring him in for the scholarship and the role he was originally slated for.
In recent years, the Gophers have talked about him being a third or fourth line player, Youso said, and reducing his playing time. It was a role more suited for a walk-on, he said. They also asked him to return to juniors for a third year this season.
"I can take the hint," Youso said. "[The U] was not a good route for me anymore. Why go somewhere and have a negative experience?"
Gophers coach Don Lucia called Youso a great kid who wanted a bigger role on the team than he could offer him. The U will give Youso his release, Lucia said.
Assistant Gophers coach John Hill, who recruited Youso, called him this week to wish him well.
This week Youso's brother Matt, a 6-1, 195-pound defenseman, is starting down the junior hockey road. Matt is at the Express' tryouts with Jake watching him.
"He [Matt] got to see all" of the recruiting process, Jake Youso said. "He went on one of my visits. I love talking to him about it [the recruiting process].
"The biggest thing I would stress with him is to be patient. Look at all options. Go where you are wanted the most and where your role is the best fit."
Youso visited only one other school, UMD, besides Minnesota. He also liked North Dakota and had an offer from Yale.
"But I wanted to play for the Gophers and they recruited me harder than anyone else," Youso said.
He still has a copy of the national letter of intent he signed somewhere. But Youso is not sure anymore where that letter is. Nor where he will play after Waterloo.