When 2013 Red Cloud graduate, Falcon Albers walks across the stage at Dakota State in a few weeks, to receive a college diploma, there are going to be a lot of proud people in South Dakota. The degree comes after five-long years of life throwing just about every curve-ball imaginable, and yet, Albers persevered.
Parents Terry Albers and Leslie Heathershaw will probably provide the loudest graduation cheers when their son’s name is called.
“I think both myself and my parents will be pretty happy after the struggles I went through the last five years,” Falcon Albers said.
A five-year journey started at Dakota Wesleyan
As a senior at Red Cloud, Albers helped coach Christian McGhee to a 19-5 record in 2013. The Crusaders, who were once ranked as high as No. 7 in the Class A polls lost to White River in the Lakota Nation championship. One game away from the state tournament, the Crusaders lost a heartbreaker to an upset minded Spearfish team that beat St. Thomas More and Red Cloud to reach the state tournament.
While the Spearfish loss was a tough one, Albers remembers the year fondly, playing with Cully Pourier, Dominic Pilcher and then freshman, Kobey O’Rourke. Albers remembers the battles against Pine Ridge when Jeff LeBeaux was a junior and playing against Derrick Tyon and Jesse Brown. (Photo courtesy of Double M studios and Jerry Matthews.
A good football player (safety and wide receiver), Albers was mulling over college offers in a few sports, but, the love of basketball was great and the then senior dialed in on where he would continue his hoop dreams.
“The recruiting stage was a struggle because of where I was from (Pine Ridge area),” Albers said. “There was some interest from Adams State, Black Hills State, Christian talked to Chadron State a bit.”
His eventual choice, Dakota Wesleyan University, who saw him play as a junior in high school.
On graduation day at Red Cloud, Albers signed with DWU. Three days later, the coach who had recruited him, Shane Murphy resigned.
While Albers kept his commitment to DWU and new coach, Matt Wilber, from the get-go the fit at DWU didn’t seem right.
“It just wasn’t a good fit for me,” Albers said. “When I was recruited by the coaches it wasn’t what I was expecting.”
Albers said the JV team had a ton of players and he wasn’t expecting to be on the JV roster. Having lived with friends of family during high-school, the being away from home process didn’t bother Albers, but the academics took some getting used to.
“Red Cloud prepared me so much but I’d get done with homework by 10 a.m. on Sunday’s and wonder what I should do next,” he said.
Before Albers ever saw the court in Mitchell, just days before the season opener, the former Crusader tore an ACL.
Dissatisfied with his DWU experience, Albers went home, unsure of his academic or athletic future.
And then, by luck of the draw, Albers ran into Sacred Hoops’ Allan Bertram at a Foot-Locker store in Sioux Falls. The former Chamberlain coach asked Albers what he was doing. After a ‘not-much’ reply from Albers, Bertram, whose son Skyler was playing at Presentation College in Aberdeen offered to get ahold of the Presentation coach.
“Skyler kind of knew I was a free agent,” Albers said. “The next day they called and I liked everything at that school.”
So, Albers packed his bags for Aberdeen, only to repack everything at the end of the semester and head home because his father was sick.
“Family is everything to me and I knew my dad needed me,” Albers said. “I transferred after the semester and just had to let go of the whole team.”
So, Albers transferred to Black Hills State for the second half of his sophomore and all of his junior year. For 18 months, Albers kept his basketball dream alive by staying in school, staying fit and playing in as many independent tournaments as he could find.
He dominated intra-mural play and everyone who played against him told Albers he should walk on to the basketball team. He did, but the experience still wasn’t’ right.
Former Crusader finally finds a home...
Despite churning along towards his degree, the basketball blood that ran through his veins kept urging him to play. Albers wanted to go somewhere that he could play immediately, and got a little nudge from a former teammate, Ian Barse, who Albers had played with during a stint with the South Dakota Heat.
And so, Albers got it contact with the Dakota State coaches who asked him to work out.
Finally, Albers had found his basketball home for a dream that just wouldn’t die.
“The love of basketball has always been with me and I’ve never been a quitter,” Albers said. “That passion is part of who I am and every since I was a little kid I wanted to play college basketball.”
Academically a senior, athletically, Albers still had two years (1 redshirt). As a junior he played sparingly, maybe 10-12 minutes per game.
“I wasn’t in the best shape when I came in and had to work hard to get back where I was,” Albers said.
And so, as the 2017-2018 season began at Dakota State, Albers put in WORK and became a more prominent player on the Trojans roster.
“I actually had a good senior season,” Albers said “I averaged about 7 points per game and 15 or so minutes per game, and got to start a few times.”
A star at Red Cloud, Albers accepted his role and did everything he could to help his team.
“I just wanted to contribute to my team,” Albers said. “I didn’t look at me, just the team and tried to do everything to get a win.”
Two days before the conference playoffs, another set-back as Albers fractured his tibia and strained his ACL and MCL.
Of all the hurdles his college career had thrown at him, this one was on top of the list of TUFF things to endure.
“What I went through that week was excruciating as my emotions were all over the place,” Albers said. “Allen (Bertram) texted me and my former coach Matt Rama texted me and helped me through that period.”
While the plan was to continue playing basketball and perhaps find a team overseas to play with, Albers sat on the sideline as his Trojan teammates entered post-season play.
A fighter by nature, nearly 3 months into his rehab, Albers is already back on the court.
Throughout his academic and athletic journey, Albers says he’s embraced being a role-model saying we have to give hope and we have to give kids back on the Reservation a ‘VISION’.”
To those aspiring young people hoping to continue their hoop dreams, Albers has some solid words of advice.
1. “It’s going to be a fight. There are times where you want to give and say it’s not worth it, but you have to trust the process. Stick it out and try to remember why and what you’re doing it for and think of all the people back home that are looking up you and let them see that this is possible.”
2. Albers hopes to coach and even earn a Masters Degree to become a trainer hopes to get back to the Pine Ridge area at some time. “You have to live, have to explore and meet new people.”
3. “The college speed is different and it takes a minute to get used to it. Being a part of a program, the atmosphere and seeing the gym packed is as awesome as I’d imagined it.”