Jake Wieneke is a wide receiver for the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL.
A Maple Grove, Minnesota native, Wieneke played multiple sports while growing up in the Minneapolis suburb, but his athleticism, and his passion, was always most obvious each time he stepped onto a football field.
“I always loved having a football in my hands, whether I was throwing, running, or catching,” Wienke says.
“I always wanted to be a receiver, but when you’re young, teams don’t throw that much.”
By ninth grade, Wieneke’s combination of speed and power was becoming too much for offensive coordinators to ignore, which in turn forced them to open up the playbook and find ways to get the ball into the 6-4 wideout’s hands.
“I had a good freshman season. I caught a lot of passes, and that’s when I knew being a receiver is what I wanted to do,” Wieneke says.
For the next four years, Wieneke was routinely the best player on the field each time he laced up his cleats for the Maple Grove Crimson, but staying on the field was a problem during his sophomore and junior seasons.
Fortunately, by the time Wieneke was a senior, he had found a way to stay healthy, satisfying the throngs of college scouts who frequently attended his games.
“I knew what I could do, but I wanted to get on the field so I could finally prove it,” Wieneke recalls of his senior season, a coming-out party that saw him catch 68 passes for 1,330 yards and 13 touchdowns, netting him a nomination for Mr. Football in the state of Minnesota.
That 2012 run reaffirmed the interest that many schools had in Wieneke, and after mulling over his options, Wieneke signed a national letter of intent to play football for the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.
Wieneke redshirted in 2013, but following a fierce competition in 2014 training camp, Wieneke was ready to deliver on the promise he had showed so many times throughout his high school career.
“I was battling with a number of other guys for a receiver spot, just trying to get on the field, and God opened a door,” Wieneke says of an opportunity he then fully capitalized on, exploding onto the scene with impeccable numbers that earned him the Jerry Rice Award as the FCS’ top freshman for the 2014 season.
With a line of 73 receptions, 1,404 yards, and 16 touchdowns, it would have been easy for Wieneke to become arrogant, but the former Jackrabbit has never been one for self-aggrandizement, which is why he is always quick to heap praise on his supporting cast of teammates.
“Our running back that year  was a 2,000-yard guy. He was demanding a lot of attention, as was another wide receiver we had, and this led to me getting a lot of one-on-one matchups,” Wienke explains.
In the following seasons, despite defensive coordinators planning their coverages around slowing him down, Wieneke’s on-field production continued to increase.
By the end of his senior campaign in 2017, Wieneke not only had broken several school receiving records, but he also shattered Missouri Valley Conference records for receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns, a feat that had NFL scouts from all over the country rushing to learn more about a player who didn’t go the conventional route of playing for a Power Five university.
After multiple conversations with NFL scouts and team execs, Wieneke was optimistic that his name might be called during the latter half of the 2018 NFL draft, but as the seventh and final round unfolded, Wieneke’s name was still on the board.
“With five picks left the Vikings receivers coach called me to say that they wanted me if I didn’t get drafted,” Wieneke recalls, before adding that as a result of the Vikings interest, he actually hoped that he wouldn’t get drafted so that he could have the freedom to choose his next landing spot.
“At that point, having looked at the teams who still had a draft pick, it was clear that Minnesota was the best place for me to go. I knew their team and I knew their coaching staff.”
Wieneke thankfully got his wish and didn’t get drafted, and then the next day he inked a contract with the Vikings, an agreement that didn’t guarantee Wieneke anything other than a shot at competing for a spot on the 53-man roster when training camps opened that summer.
Unfortunately, months later, despite a strong showing in limited preseason snaps, Wieneke was waived before the final roster was announced.
Yet, instead of sulking, Wieneke was eager to improve his game, and thus began a journey that eventually saw him take his talents to the Great White North and sign a contract with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League (CFL).
Although the CFL doesn’t possess the same level of talent as the NFL, it’s still competitive, which is why household names like Doug Flutie and Warren Moon once ventured north in hopes of reviving their NFL dreams.
“It’s great football and a great league, but it’s also unique because there are a different set of rules,” Wieneke says.
“One rule that makes it a totally different game is that there are only three downs instead of four downs. Even in the NFL, every play matters, but in the CFL, every play matters just a little more.”
Having one less down, while confusing to the millions of Americans who tune in to NFL football each Sunday, actually ends up making the Canadian game more intense by creating a sense of urgency to pick up first downs, a need that places a greater importance on having receivers like Wieneke who can consistently move the chains.
“But at the end of the day, it’s still football. As a receiver, you still have to go out there and win your route or block your man,” Wieneke says.
As for life off the field, Wieneke admits that there was an adjustment period he and his family had to make upon initially arriving in Montreal, a predominantly French-speaking metropolis that boasts a population of almost 2 million people, but that now his family looks forward to going back to the territory of Quebec every time football season rolls around.
“My wife and I love Montreal,” Wieneke says.
“There is diversity. It’s a French-speaking city, so the street signs and everything else are in French. Sometimes you will go to a restaurant and they might not have an English menu, but it’s still an interesting city. It’s a lot different than other places in Canada, and I’m thankful to be a part of it.”
But in between making highlight-reel catches and strolling through cobblestone sidewalks alongside French Colonial-style homes, there still exists a fire within Wieneke, a burning desire to get another crack at putting on the pads for an NFL team.
His stats in the CFL speak volumes, and his relentless positivity has been a boon to every locker room he has ever entered, but something is still missing, a key ingredient in the NFL algorithm that Wieneke has not yet ascertained.
“It’s tough to say [why he’s not in the NFL]. There’s a lot to go that goes into it. I still have dreams of getting there, which is why I signed a one-year contract with Montreal [for the 2022 season],” Wieneke shares.
“I have some idea of what NFL teams might be looking for, but at the end of the day, they might not think I’m good enough. I know I still have a lot to improve on, and that’s why my focus remains on continuing to get better. That’s all I can do, and we’ll see what happens.”
Whether Wieneke makes it to the NFL or not, his football career will eventually end, and when that moment arrives, it won’t be a sorrowful affair.
Having graduated from South Dakota State University with a degree in Physical Education, Wieneke will one day follow in his father’s footsteps and begin educating the next generation of students, the hope being that he can leverage his past accomplishments and inspire others to pursue whatever it is that keeps them awake at night, dreaming of the immense possibilities their futures contain.
Ironically, it’s that youthful optimism that keeps Wieneke faithful to his training regimen during the offseason, content to diligently refine his game and wait for the type of phone call that could fulfill the childlike ambitions he still carries.
It’s not the results that Wienke is addicted to though, because trying to predict the decisions an NFL GM may make is a hopeless endeavor.
Wienke is happy to wake up and get an opportunity to be better today than he was yesterday.
“I’ve been a pro for four years now, but I have only played two seasons [due to COVID-19]. A lot of my time has been spent preparing for seasons, and that’s how I have learned to enjoy every single day, and the process of getting better,” Wieneke details, before punctuating his train of thought with a sentiment that transcends all walks of life.
“It’s important to enjoy what you’re doing, otherwise you’re going to stop.” QS
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