GREEN BAY — Notre Dame Academy guard Nate Ihlenfeldt is happy to be back on the basketball court. Due to football injuries, the senior had not played the game in two years. Ihlenfeldt missed both the football and basketball seasons as a sophomore after suffering a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament during a seven-on-seven football tournament. Last year, he was sidelined for the hoops season after breaking his collarbone in the WIAA Division 3 state football championship game.
“Basketball is something I’ve played since the third grade. I used to play in little tournaments with my friends,” he said. “I kept playing throughout the years. I love the game. I love being with my friends. I’m a competitive person so any opportunity I get to be competitive, I take. It’s going to be my last year playing. I want to finish out strong.”
Ihlenfeldt is serving in a reserve role so far this season for the Tritons. He said that his approach to the team is similar to football where he we was a standout running back. Ihlenfeldt rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a senior and scored 31 touchdowns. He received all-state and all-region honors from the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association, was named the Fox River Classic Conference Offensive Player of the Year and is a two-time unanimous all-conference selection.
“Whether it’s football or basketball, you want to do what’s best for the team no matter what,” he explained. “Whatever role I have to play in basketball, whatever role I had to play in football; that was what I was going to do. I work hard in practice. You come in day in and day out and try to get better. Do your best at practice to make yourself and everyone else better. My goal was just to play. It has been really fun to put the jersey on and actually play again.”
The Notre Dame Academy boys basketball team is off to a good start winning six of its first eight games.
Ihlenfeldt wears his familiar jersey number 5 in basketball, the same number he wore for football.
“Number 5 has been run through the family,” he said. “My brothers were number 5 growing up. I’m the fifth (child of five). We always say ‘Keep 5 alive.’”
He added that he is most proud of “not missing days and not taking plays off” on the gridiron the last two seasons. He appreciates the individual football honors, but said that the team deserves the credit. The Tritons finished as state champs in 2015 and runner-ups this past season.
“None of it would have been possible without every single person on the team,” he said. “It is really a tribute to my teammates and the coaches. Coach (John) Nowak has been a role model for me. He’s all I’ve known for Notre Dame football.”
Ihlenfeldt’s interests extend beyond athletics. Last year, he performed at Summerfest and the Vans Warped Tour, both in Milwaukee, as a member of the band Enough Already, which also includes classmate Michael Schumacher.
“I love music. I was in the school band back in middle school,” said Ihlenfeldt, who attended St. Matthew School in Allouez. “I played saxophone, tenor and bass. I always wanted to pick up guitar and I like listening to music. I picked up guitar when I was 11.”
His skills as an entertainer were also put to the test during the 2016 Mr. NDA competition. Much to his surprise, Ihlenfeldt won the talent contest and will compete in the Mr. Titletown pageant next month.
“Mr. NDA was nerve-wracking,” he said. “I have had more experience playing football than being an entertainer on stage. There is a certain comfort level on the football field.”
Ihlenfeldt, a member of St. Matthew Parish, is also an avid snowboarder and will compete in track and field in the spring. When reflecting on his high school days, the community at Notre Dame stands out as much as his athletic opportunities, he said.
“It’s been a really comforting experience,” he said. “One of the things I have really appreciated this year is getting to know everybody. Some of the people I didn’t take the time to get to know the first couple years are some that I now talk to all the time. I’m not afraid to go out of my way to meet new friends and talk to new people. Make sure you are including people. Get to know as many people as you can.”
Ihlenfeldt is weighing his college football options. Playing at the next level is just one of his plans.
“I have a huge bucket list of things I want to do,” he said. “Going off to college is the first step.”