ALLENDALE, Mich. (WOOD) — The campus of the University of Minnesota is 448 miles away from Allendale.
That’s the travel distance that Nate Umlor would take home for holidays or on breaks to see his family when he wasn’t on the football field for the Minnesota Gophers. It is also the same track that his parents Jeff and Kelly Umlor would take to see him play games at Huntington Bank Stadium.
After starting the final seven of the 11 games Umlor played in as a freshman on the defensive line, he was redshirted as a sophomore after only playing in one game. In 2019, he played in four games after making the switch to the offensive line.
So before 2020, he decided to start seeking options as a transfer and wanted to get back to playing on the defensive front.
Grand Valley State University head football coach Matt Mitchell knew Umlor was looking for a place to play and that he grew up down the road where he attended Allendale High School. So Mitchell, the coaching staff and Umlor met.
“Nate is familiar with Laker football and had a sense of what it was about,” Mitchell said. “He wanted to be playing interior defensive tackle again and we felt it would be a good fit for us and him, he’s been great since he got here.”
It was an easy match, and as of January 2020, Umlor became a Laker.
Suddenly, the commute was just down the road for Umlor and his family.
“I know my parents are really excited for this and I am too,” Umlor said. “They’re all going to be here for game one against Edinboro and they’re going to be cheering me and the Lakers on, so hopefully we can get a win for them.”
Coming out of Allendale, Umlor was originally going to stay local. He received offers from both Central Michigan University and Western Michigan University and elected to commit as a WMU Bronco in March of 2016 with P.J. Fleck as the head coach.
Fleck and WMU were coming off a historic season where they went 12-1 with an appearance in the Cotton Bowl.
After the season, Fleck accepted a job offer to become the head coach of Minnesota. Umlor followed Fleck, who recruited him. After decommitting from WMU on Jan. 6, 2017, two days later, he committed as a Gopher.
Things didn’t really go as planned in Minneapolis. He wouldn’t play in double digit games following his freshman season. However, the stats at Allendale were hard to ignore.
As an Allendale Falcon, he played tight end and defensive end. As a senior, he caught 12 passes for 214 yards and six touchdowns. On defense, he had 68 tackles, 26 of which came in the backfield, with 8.5 sacks. His athleticism was something you couldn’t ignore with a 6-foot-8 frame.
Umlor knew there was still more in the tank, and even on hard days in Minnesota, he tried to keep making progress on and off the field.
“I had to grow up a little bit,” Umlor said. “I went (to Minnesota) as an 18-year-old kid and had three years of living on my own. I felt like at Grand Valley, I could bring a mature mindset and help the D-line room with my experience there. It was a great experience, but Grand Valley is where I want to be.
“It is truly a dream come true.”
Of course, this unique homecoming for the Allendale native had to be put on pause in 2020. COVID-19 canceled GLIAC football completely and made Umlor and the other seven transfers for the Lakers wait a whole year before they could prepare to see the field.
For Mitchell, he felt it was to some extent a good thing, so Umlor and the other transfers could get to know the program and teammates better.
“Nate’s grown closer with all of us and it shows on the practice field,” Mitchell said. “He was able to develop a lot of relationships with the staff and players and really feel like he’s a Laker now.”
That season opener Umlor spoke about his family going to will also have to wait a little longer due to COVID-19 issues for the opponent Edinboro. The Thursday game was pushed back to Saturday but has ultimately been canceled.
GVSU says it’s going to look for someone else to fill the opening on the schedule. If that doesn’t happen, the season will start Sept. 11 against Colorado State-Pueblo at Lubbers Stadium.
For Umlor, who is listed as a junior, it’s hard to hold back the excitement, but it will be well worth it.
“I feel like I came to the right place that has a championship culture,” Umlor said. “Really, I just want to win. I think we really have a chance of winning championships this year.”
Whatever happens in the 2021 campaign, his family will be right along Umlor’s side for it all like they were when he was at Minnesota.
The only difference is the travel is less than 10 miles from his home to Lubbers Stadium this time around.