With 5:51 remaining in the third quarter of Hillsdale’s homecoming football game, quarterback Jake Burger collided with 220-pound Missouri S&T linebacker Nick Mattli.
Frank “Muddy” Waters Stadium went quiet as Burger stayed down on his back, clutching his shoulder.
Down 31 – 24, the Chargers turned to their third-string QB, a 6 – 1 redshirt sophomore from Luxemburg, Wisconsin: Garrit Aissen. He had taken only one snap in his Hillsdale career, and had never thrown a pass.
“It was nerve-wracking, right when I first went in,” Aissen said. “But on the first play coach called a nice rollout, so I could get out of the pocket and didn’t have to worry about pressure. I had a nice completion and then it just seemed to settle in, after that it almost felt just like practice.”
On his play, Aissen rolled right and hit wide receiver Austen Williams for a nine-yard pickup. He became the team’s signal caller for 14 of its 21 unanswered points, leading Hillsdale to a 35 – 31 win — its first of the season. Aissen also finished the game with just one incompletion, and his first passing touchdown as a Charger.
“A lot of the credit has to go to my offensive line and my coaching staff. My coaches did a really good job at preparing me, just so that I knew what the reads were,” Aissen said. “I was just doing my job and they’re telling me what I need to do and if you execute what they say, most of the time it’s going to work.”
In the days following the Chargers’ win, the team learned that third-year starting QB Luke Keller, who went down part way through the second quarter, suffered a torn ACL as well as a hairline fracture in his tibia. Additionally, Burger tore three muscles in his rotator cuff, leaving both QBs out for the season.
Now, after expecting to not get real playing time all season, Aissen is set to be the starter for the rest of the year — an idea Aissen’s parents back in Wisconsin, Tammy and Jeff, say they’re cautiously optimistic about.
“We’re very grateful for his opportunity,” Jeff said. “We’re a little nervous about it. We know he did not get a lot of reps with the first team prior to last week and there’s a lot to learn, so we were nervous getting into it, and we’re still a little nervous.”
Aissen quickly proved there isn’t much to worry about, leading the team to a 24 – 21 win over the Tiffin University Dragons, breaking their 12-game win streak on in-conference games.
Aissen said that from a young age his parents taught him to work hard, not just in football, but in all aspects of his life.
“Both my parents are the two hardest working individuals that I know,” Aissen said. “Just seeing them and how they go through life really prepared me because football is just like life, if I just watched how my parents went through life, I just knew that’s how I had to play football, in the same way; keep working, keep grinding.”
Jeff said their philosophy has always been that there’s no substitute for hard work, something that the family epitomizes at their third-generation Christmas tree farm, the Aissen Tree Farm. The farm has been a staple of the Green Bay area for 33 years, and it’s where Aissen said he learned the necessity of hard work.
“My parents pretty much built up their farm themselves without much help at all, when they bought it, it was 70 acres of grass and now it’s quite the business,” Aissen said. “I love it a lot, it’s a huge part of my life. When I go home in the summers, that’s what I do. I love spending time with my family.”
Jeff said working at the farm full time allowed him and Tammy to have more time with Garrit and his older sister, Skyla. Some of that time was used to help their son pursue his dream to play football.
“He had heard about Pop Warner football, so we started investigating it in our area and we found out we were outside of the boundaries for the Green Bay Pop Warner league,” Jeff said. “That didn’t sit too well with him, so he sat down with my wife and wrote a letter to the director of the Pop Warner program, asking for special consideration to be a part of it, and they ended up letting him play.”
Only a week’s worth of practices later, Garrit’s Pop Warner team was selected to play during Family Night at Lambeau Stadium, the Green Bay Packers’ home field.
“He ended up scoring a touchdown on Lambeau Field in Pop Warner, and did the Lambeau leap into my arms,” Jeff said.
From there, Aissen’s football career shot off, breaking multiple passing records at Luxemburg-Casco High School. Despite that, Aissen said he didn’t get much interest from any Division II schools.
“Hillsdale was actually the last Division II school that I talked to, and as soon as I came here on a visit, I said, well, this is the one,” Aissen said.
Aissen’s roommate and close friend, redshirt sophomore defensive back Julius Graber said that since being at Hillsdale, Aissen has put himself in a position to succeed.
“I like playing football a lot, but the grind of football is not always desirable,” Graber said. “Garrit does a great job of figuring out how to enjoy the grind and always tries to see the positives of putting in the hard work.”
Despite his early success, Jeff said that he makes sure to remind Garrit how fortunate he is.
“There’s a lot of kids that aren’t able to make it to the next level, there’s a lot of kids that dream to do that, but aren’t able to,” Jeff said. “We keep telling him, you’re playing at a level that many kids wouldn’t be able to play it, it’s been your drive, your perseverance, your leadership, that has put you where you’re at.”