Zylstra Brothers Making Impact on Both Sides of the Border

Brothers Brandon (left) and Shane (right) Zylstra are having successful seasons as wide receivers for the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos and Minnesota State-Mankato this season. Photo: Courtesy esks.com; Courtesy Minnesota State-Mankato Athletic Communications
Brothers Brandon (left) and Shane (right) Zylstra are having successful seasons as wide receivers for the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos and Minnesota State-Mankato this season.

October 26, 2017 11:31 AM

Shane Zylstra admits his knowledge of the Canadian Football League was rather limited growing up.

In fact, until recently, the Minnesota State-Mankato redshirt sophomore wide receiver couldn't have separated a Roughrider from a Redblack, or a Blue Bomber from a BC Lion.


That all changed last summer, however.

That's when his older brother Brandon - a former standout at Concordia-Moorhead - caught on with the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos.

"I knew nothing about football up there going into it," Shane Zylstra said. "Now I try to watch every one of his games, unless he's playing at noon or 1 on a Saturday. I've actually learned quite a bit about how they play the game up there.

"There's still some things I don't understand. But Brandon has done a pretty good job explaining it all to me."

At this point, Brandon Zylstra certainly qualifies as an expert.

After seeing action in six games and making 34 catches for 508 yards in 2016, he has 94 receptions for a league-best 1,514 yards and four touchdowns this season.

In the process, he's emerged as a big name north of the border.

"I always knew I had the ability to succeed at this level," said Brandon, a two-time All-MIAC first team pick with the Cobbers who was invited to a Minnesota Vikings mini-camp in May of 2016.

"I always believed in myself. It was just a matter of getting the right opportunity. And when it came, I tried to take advantage of it."

Games to watch: Week 9

Minnesota-Duluth (4-0 NSIC North, 6-2 overall) at Bemidji State (4-0 NSIC North, 6-2 overall), 7:05 p.m. Thursday

The NSIC North Division co-leaders square off in the conference's weekly edition of Thursday Night Football. The Bulldogs are coming off a 37-0 victory over Minot State last week. The Beavers beat Northern State 44-17.

Winona State (4-0 NSIC South, 8-0 overall) at Minnesota State-Mankato (4-0 NSIC South, 8-0 overall), 1 p.m. Saturday

The NSIC South Division co-leaders meet Saturday in Mankato. The host Mavericks are ranked No. 3 in the most recent AFCA Division II national poll. But they have lost the last two seasons to the Warriors, now ranked No. 10. MSU-Mankato beat Southwest Minnesota State 54-7 last week, piling up 541 yards of total offense. Winona State beat Wayne State 42-19, recording 411 yards of offense. Both teams are ranked in the top three in the NSIC in both points scored and least points allowed.

Bethel (3-2 MIAC, 3-4 overall) at St. Thomas (5-0 MIAC, 6-1 overall), 1:10 p.m. Saturday

The Royals represent likely the toughest opponent yet left on the Tommies' regular-season schedule. St. Thomas, ranked No. 4 in the most recent D3football.com Division III national poll, shelled Hamline 84-0 on the road last week. The Royals, meanwhile, have won two straight - outscoring Carleton and Gustavus 73-3 the past two games.

Shane, meanwhile, has been having a pretty good season of his own. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound New London-Spicer High School graduate has a team-best 34 catches for 574 yards and 11 touchdowns this fall.

Minnesota State-Mankato is 8-0 and ranked No. 3 in the nation in the most recent American Football Coaches' Association Division II national poll.

And Shane's older brother couldn't be prouder.

"He's doing a great job down there and his team is killing it," said the 6-3, 220-pound Brandon from Edmonton, where he was preparing for his team's final regular-season home game against Calgary Saturday.

"They're having an incredible year. Shane's always been a great receiver. He's a little taller than I am. I'm a little tougher. That's what I like to tell him, anyway. But that's probably just my competitive side coming out.

"He does a great job getting to a lot of jump balls. He uses his size really well. I'm more of a possession receiver. That's more of how I've been used up here anyway."

The Eskimos are 10-6 and have already wrapped up a playoff berth in the CFL's West Division heading into Saturday's clash with first-place Calgary.

Shane and the Mavericks, meanwhile, have a big matchup of their own this week. MSU-Mankato plays host to fellow unbeaten Winona State, ranked No. 10 nationally, at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Warriors (8-0) and Mavericks are tied atop the NSIC South Division standings with 4-0 divisional marks.

"They've (beaten) us the last two years, so it's definitely a rivalry in that way," Shane said of the Warriors.

"Winona is a great team. We've been watching film of them all week. And they do a lot of great things."

Brandon and Shane are the middle two of four brothers. Oldest brother Justin was a defensive end at Concordia. Youngest brother Jaden is now 14.

"It's extremely competitive in our family," Shane said. "It always has been. We really push each other."

In fact, Shane said seeing Brandon's success in Canada has pushed him to get better back down here.

"Football has always brought the two of us together," Shane said. "We try to push each other and help each other out wherever we can. He's definitely played a big role in a lot of my success."

The Eskimos will soon begin the postseason, a quest they hope ends with a victory in the CFL's Grey Cup Game on Nov. 26 in Ottawa. By that time, MSU-Mankato will also likely be taking part in the Division II playoffs.

And both Brandon and Shane said a Grey Cup and a Division II national title would be an awfully nice way to cap off a memorable year for the family.

"That's what we're both shooting for," Shane said.

"It's funny because even back in January, I wrote down winning a Grey Cup as a goal for the year," Brandon added. "And now we feel like we have a team capable of doing that.

"I know Shane feels the same way about his team too. So it would be pretty exciting if that were to happen."


Frank Rajkowski

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