Growing up near a couple of chiropractors in the small town of Armstrong, Iowa, proved to be fortuitous for Tyler Tonderum, the record-setting Southwest Minnesota State University running back.
Tonderum, whose Mustangs take on No. 1-ranked Minnesota State University, Mankato today at 6 p.m., is a fourth-year junior majoring in exercise science and minoring in marketing.
He recently set the SMSU single-season rushing record of 1,175 yards, and he's got five games remaining. He leads all of Division II in rushing with 195 yards per game and is third in all-purpose yardage with 231 per game. He also set the single-game rushing record of 343 yards earlier this season in a rain-soaked victory against MSU Moorhead.
Armstrong, population 923, is about 20 miles south of Fairmont, just over the state line into Iowa. Tonderum had a neighbor growing up who was a chiropractor.
"Exercise science was my original plan," he said about his major. "I have a background in being involved with personal training and chiropractic, because of my neighbor."
He first visited a chiropractor when he had a back injury in junior high school.
"He found a fracture in a vertebrae, and I sat out the eighth grade. That's how the connection started," he said.
That family friend moved away, and in moved another chiropractor.
"He helped give me another look into chiropractic and propelled me in that direction," he said.
He has his sights set on Palmer Chiropractic College in Davenport, Iowa. He's got a 3.5 grade point average and has thrown himself into his studies, especially this year, he said.
"I enjoy the professors, and my classroom work has started to almost trump football. It's the reason I came here. Professors (Brent) Jeffers and (Jeff) Bell are very good in the classroom and make it interesting," he said.
The way chiropractors help heal people appeals to him.
"If someone is in pain, chiropractors try to get the body back into the state it was in by adjusting it. A medical doctor may prescribe a drug for the pain, rather than correcting the problem," he said.
When the 5-10, 191-pounder was a high school freshman, Armstrong-Ringsted moved from 11-man to 8-man football. The switch was to his liking, as he racked up 6,395 yards rushing, a state 8-man record until just a week ago.
He was a four-sport athlete in Iowa (they play baseball in the summer there), and won the state Class 1A 100-meter and 200-meter track titles along the way.
Former head coach Eric Eidsness and current head coach Cory Sauter recruited Tonderum, who chose SMSU over Mankato, Augustana, Iowa State and Iowa.
"I thought the coaches were go-getters, they were young, and Coach Sauter had knowledge about offense that was beyond what I had seen from other coaches. I also liked the stadium," he said.
Having five senior linemen clearing the way is a big reason behind his numbers, something he's quick to point out.
"They are probably the biggest reason I've had success," he said, referring to center Brandon Puffer, guards Jake Thiel and Justin Knakmuhs and tackles Alex Sedrel and Kyle Johnson.
He's fast and strong, yet had to bide his time on special teams until this year, as running backs Gannon Moore and Warren Matthews got the lion's share of carries early in his career.
"It was nice sitting under them. I learned how to play. They were two different types of running backs, and I learned how to look at defenses. It was a chance to sit back and grow," he said.
Speed is something that is God-given, and Tonderum knows he's been blessed.
"I try to use speed more than power because of my size," he said. "I'd say I'm a balanced running back, I can run inside the tackles, but I like to get on the edge and break away."
His parents, Gary and Connie Tonderum, "taught me that sports are a great way to interact with people. Football is something I love doing. I like the competitiveness. I like the idea of playing your own position and working with 10 other guys in unison. And getting to know other people from many different states is one of the most interesting things about being an athlete here."