Ben Belken was a four-sport athlete during his first two seasons of high school.
“I liked every sport pretty equally,” he said. “I just enjoy competing.”
But after a strong junior football campaign, one in which he earned All-Metro and all-district accolades for state quarterfinalist North Scott, football separated itself from the pack.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior-to-be solidified his future Wednesday evening with a verbal commitment to Northern Iowa.
“I knew I wanted to commit before the season started,” Belken said. “I really connected with the UNI coaches, it is close to home, and it felt like home right away. It is where I wanted to be.”
NAIA power Grand View was Belken’s first offer in late February. Since then, he collected offers from UNI, South Dakota State, Western Illinois, North Dakota and Minnesota State-Mankato. He also took visits and had contact with North Dakota State, Iowa State and Wisconsin.
Belken thrived at rush end for the Lancers last season. He recorded 44.5 tackles, nine tackles for loss and four sacks for a defense which held eight opponents below 15 points.
According to Belken, North Scott defensive coordinator Tim Brunkan plans to use him some at outside linebacker this fall along with rush end. He was a tight end on offense last fall but could see more time at receiver this upcoming season.
“I feel my greatest strengths are my hands, pursuing the ball and playing with a high motor,” Belken said. "I just try to be relentless."
Belken split his time among football, basketball, track and field and baseball as a freshman and sophomore. He still did basketball and track and field this year but didn’t go out for baseball.
“Football is a physical game, just being out there with your friends,” he said. “I love it. It is a lot of fun.
“Last season ended up going pretty well. I got a little bit of recruiting interest, and I figured I’d go for it.”
Belken is North Scott’s second Division I football commitment in its senior class. Offensive tackle Jackson Stoefen pledged to Kansas earlier this spring.
Between now and the fall of 2020, Belken said he’ll need to improve his lateral quickness to play outside linebacker at the collegiate level.
UNI is coming off a season in which it was 7-6 and tied for third in the Missouri Valley Football Conference at 5-3.
Belken said UNI’s tradition did not play a significant factor in his decision.
“I was looking for the school which felt right and would be like home,” he said. “UNI was that place. It is a school where I can do well.”