FOLEY – Growing up as an athlete at Foley Public Schools, Paul Backowski looked up to the members of the Foley Athletic Hall of Fame and one day hoped to be enshrined in the hall himself.
Through an incredible athletic career defined by hard work and drive, the 2005 Foley High School graduate achieved his longtime goal, as the three-sport Falcons athlete was inducted into the hall of fame to kick off Foley Night of Excellence May 21 at Foley High School in Foley.
“I’m really thankful it happened, and it’s an opportunity to really reflect on how influential coaches, teammates and teachers were on my development both as an athlete and as a person,” Backowski said.
Backowski fell in love with sports through his grandfather, who frequently browsed sports sections of newspapers at the local and national level as a huge fan of sports. This made an impression on Backowski, who began a long-winding period of athletic participation in fifth grade, starting with football and basketball but expanding to anything that caught his eye.
“When it was pickup basketball, softball, kickball at recess, whatever it was, from an early age, it was fun to play sports,” he said. “I had fun playing any sort of competition.”
And as he grew, Backowski developed a physical profile perfect for competing in a multitude of athletics. By the time he arrived on the Foley Falcons varsity football team as a ninth grader, he stood at 6 feet, 6 inches tall, and his large frame made him a strong fit for what he eventually established as his premier position on the gridiron: offensive tackle.
“Coach Larry Herm came up to me in practice when I was in ninth grade and said, ‘You like pancakes?’” Backowski said. “I was like, ‘Pancakes? I love pancakes.’ We had pancakes once a week, and I was thinking, ‘Is he going to invite me to breakfast?’”
Coach Herm later explained to Backowski that a pancake meant something entirely different in football; a pancake block is when an offensive lineman drives a defender back with so much force that they end up flat on their back. As it turns out, Backowski loved that, too, along with all aspects of football.
“There’s 11 players on the field at any time,” Backowski said. “If one person out of 11 goes the wrong way or doesn’t do their job, it doesn’t result in a positive play. But, if all 11 players are working together and execute the plan and play, then as a team, you generally find success.”
With Backowski serving as a dominant tackle and defensive end, Foley indeed reached high levels of success. The Falcons made it to the section finals as the Rum River Conference champions during his sophomore season and won the conference title once more during his senior campaign, when he accumulated 52 pancakes and did not allow a sack. For Backowski, it was the product of developing a work ethic and gaining the confidence others had in him.
“College athletics was something I wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure if it was attainable,” he said. “There were a lot of coaches and teammates who believed in me before I believed in myself.”
This translated into Backowski’s other pursuits as well; along with dabbling in baseball in junior high, he also played varsity basketball and track and field for the Falcons, making it to the Minnesota State High School League State Track and Field Championships in the shot put as a sophomore, junior and senior and qualifying as a discus thrower as a senior.
After graduation, Backowski fulfilled his desire to play collegiate football, playing for the University of Colorado Buffaloes and the North Dakota State University Bison.
“Foley did a great job of preparing me for what college could look like and would look like,” Backowski said.
Backowski’s competitiveness helped him not only in any athletic setting he desired but also in the workforce after completing his education. He has worked for three agriculture companies and is currently employed at Ceres Global Ag in Golden Valley and lives in Mound with his wife, Sara, and infant son, Henry.
Through it all, Backwoski has used life lessons taken from his various sport-driven environments and applied it to all aspects of his life.
“It’s the culmination of a lot of practice, studying and work,” Backowski said. “It was really understanding if the work is put in, good things will happen.”