Photos Courtesy of The Lenz Family and NDSU Athletics
It’s easy to get caught up in the present glory of NDSU football. With an immense track record spanning decades, the victories of yesterday seem further away with every win. Yet time hasn’t degraded the grandeur of this former nose guard’s glory.
As a member of three NCAA Division II national championship teams, Paul Lenz amassed more than 130 career tackles with 10 quarterback sacks and 26 total tackles for loss. In 1988, the swift Bison senior was selected first-team All-American by the Football Gazette and ranked most valuable defensive lineman in the North Central Conference.
During his athletic career in Fargo, he played alongside a loaded lineup of young pass-rushers who’d go down as one of the toughest teams in Herd history.
“Everybody was good,” said Lenz. “Everybody was big and fast, just quality athletes. Our teammates were such competitors, it didn’t matter if we were up by three touchdowns or down by three. We didn’t give up until the end.”
Now back in his hometown of Hutchinson, Minnesota, Paul continues to live and breathe Bison athletics alongside wife, Lana (Meyer) Lenz, former NDSU volleyball player from Apple Valley, Minnesota.
Their colliding destinies were guided by a desire to push themselves to the limit, with Lana explaining, “I chose to go to North Dakota State because my high school coach said, ‘Do you want to go somewhere you’ll play a lot, or do you want to go to the highest level you can go to?’ and I said, ‘I want to challenge myself.’”
In an unforeseen shakeup, Lana’s career was cut short by appendicitis on the first day of practice her junior year, forcing her to choose between a delayed athletic career or keeping up with Paul’s academic career. She decided to load up her schedule to finish at the same time as Paul, who was a year older, allowing the two education majors to eventually student-teach at the same time.
Her time away from volleyball also allowed Lana to witness Paul’s legendary ‘88 season from the sidelines and aligned their education paths, only to be met by another career bend.
“There’s a lot in the world I still want to see.” – Paul Lenz
“I was getting married in the spring of 1990 and about a month before that I sat down with my dad and said ‘I don’t want to be a teacher, I want to go into the family business,’ and we went from there,” said Paul. “I figured out I didn’t want to be a teacher, but I still wanted to coach.”
Taking on a sales role at the family-run company, AG Systems, he quickly carved out a spot for himself in the tight-knit business. Now with 26 years of experience in the fertilizer-equipment industry, he’s overseeing the company’s legacy as vice president of sales and marketing.
“He has the gift of gab, so it’s something that came very naturally to him,” said Lana affectionately, who continued her career in physical education.
FINDING THE RIGHT FIT
With a teaching certificate in hand, Paul was set for a career in education, but a student-teaching experience left him wanting more. A desire to control the speed of his rise up the professional ladder pushed him in an unexpected direction, something his own son would experience years later, too.
“I’ve had two kids graduate from college so far and a third one that’s a sophomore,” said Paul. “I think over half of the kids that come out of high school have no idea what they want to do with their lives. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I went to college.”
Paul’s eldest son, Colton, graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College with a public accounting degree before making a dramatic career shift into the nursing field.
“If kids could spend a year just exploring different things to do, I think that would help a lot of people develop a path in their college career,” said Paul.
Both Lenz boys, Colton and Payton, pursued college football careers like their father, with daughter Morgan competing in dance. Morgan received a degree from Gustavus Adolphus, with Payton currently studying at St. John’s University.
AT HOME AGAIN
His homecoming also enabled Paul to coach football and hockey in Hutchinson, using the lessons he
learned from high school coach, Grady Rostberg, the 2016 recipient of the John Gagliardi Legacy Award, which honors Minnesota high school coaches for outstanding careers.
“Am I glad I came back to it? Yes I am, because it’s been a rewarding career,” said Paul.
Now with another new and foreign future ahead, Paul has stepped away from coaching to enjoy a life of leisure with his lifelong partner, Lana.
“We plan to travel and see the world, enjoying each other and see what the future has in store,” said Paul. “There’s a lot in the world I still want to see.”