Chiabotti’s team-first attitude fuels historic career

North Woods senior TJ Chiabotti has been named the All-Iron Range Football Player of the Year by the Mesabi Tribune and the Grand Rapids Herald-Review.

COOK — North Woods senior TJ Chiabotti has never strayed from his team-first attitude.

The standout running back holds multiple school records, has collected an ever-increasing number of postseason awards, and was even a finalist for Mr. Football this season — one of the 10 best players in the state of Minnesota. The entire time every team the Grizzlies played did everything they could to stop him.

Still, Chiabotti will be the first to tell you that he couldn’t have done any of those things without his teammates. In turn, Chiabotti did everything he could for his team through a career that saw him finish with over 5,600 all-purpose yards and 72 touchdowns.

For his efforts this season and throughout his record-breaking career, Chiabotti has been named the All-Iron Range Football Player of the Year by the Mesabi Tribune and the Grand Rapids Herald-Review.

With the Grizzlies coming off a shortened 2020 season, Chiabotti and the rest of the North Woods squad came into this year hoping for a run to the state tournament. While they may have come up short, the senior says it was one of the most fun and memorable seasons for any sport he’s played.

“Getting to have that full season again, it was awesome,” Chiabotti said. “We had a chip on our shoulder from last year with the way it ended and that’s the way we wanted to come out and play every game. This year didn’t end the way we wanted it to but it was still one of the most fun years I’ve had. We knew how to have fun but also how to flip a switch when it came to game time.”

North Woods coach Joel Anderson said Chiabotti’s ability, attitude and maturity on and off the field were some of the best he’s ever seen, meaning it’ll be very difficult to replace him in seasons to come.

“He is very much a team first, team win kind of kid,” Anderson said. “He does nothing but make those around him better and it shows. His level of maturity shows. He’s very humble and he’s a phenomenal athlete that you can’t even fully realize until you see him step on the field. His attitude has been fantastic and he’s been a great part of our program for a long time now. It’ll be tough to replace him but his leadership and ability to maintain that focus and keep doing what he did during his career here was second to none.”

Over his 33 varsity games, Chiabotti ran the ball for 5,360 yards on 645 carries and picked up 261 yards on 10 receptions. He found the end zone 72 times and brought in 18 two-point conversions. Defensively, he was just as strong at linebacker and finished his career with 12 interceptions, six forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries. He’ll graduate as North Woods’ all-time leading rusher and points scorer.

All that is well and good, but Chiabotti has no interest in his own numbers.

“I’m not really a stats person for myself. I just was just hoping to do what I could for my team and maybe get us to state or the section finals. We had team goals and that was always my focus.

“Having that team success and trying to go as far as we can no matter what is a pretty big motivator. It doesn’t matter what sport it is.”

A force even as a freshman, Anderson says Chiabotti only got better as other teams centered more of their defensive plans around him.

“He opened our eyes as a coaching staff that first year with all of the things he could do. He became the focus of every defense we played against over the course of his career. We saw more guys up in the box every game and he continued to get better and better and it made our guys that much better being around him.”

Whether it was his turn to get the ball or not, there was no doubt that Chiabotti would complete his assignment to the best of his abilities.

“Our plan was that he needed the ball in his hands 20-plus times in a game for us to be successful. The ball was safe in his hands so that’s where we put it. Outside of that, he picked up blocks when it was asked of him and did everything a coach could hope for. He’s just an all-around team player and even though I knew what was coming, he was still able to surprise me with the things he did. It was truly something else.”

Chiabotti’s senior season was capped off by being named as one of the 10 finalists for the Mr. Football award, given to the best high school player in the state of Minnesota. Chiabotti was the only player from Class A named to the final 10 with every other player coming from bigger classes.

Hearing he was one of the 10 best in the entire state, Chiabotti still knew it was only right to credit the rest of his team for the honor.

“I have to give thanks to my teammates for that. I wouldn’t have been there without them. I knew I worked hard in the summer so I guess it wasn’t the biggest surprise I could make it there but it definitely wouldn’t have happened without them.”

Heading to the Mr. Football banquet earlier this month in St. Louis Park, Anderson says Chiabotti definitely belonged when looking at all of the finalists.

“I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from all of it,” Anderson said of the banquet. “But TJ fit in very well with everyone there. His stat lines were right there with everybody else, including the winner. We got to see highlights from all 10 players and he stood out just as much as everybody else.

“After the shortened year last season, he knew he would have quite the workload coming into this year and he proved that he has that ability to take all of that on. It was pretty cool to see him be a finalist for that and really have it as a culmination for his body of work over the last four years.”

Chiabotti wants to play football in college and says he is leaning towards one certain school but isn’t totally settled yet. While football is important, he also is hoping for a strong education and hopes to study engineering in college.

“A place that has engineering and good football is definitely important to me. I’m not 100% yet but wherever I end up, that’s what’s going to be important.”

On bringing his game to the next level, Anderson says Chiabotti will find success wherever he is due to his natural athletic ability and his willingness to learn, improve and be coached.

“He’s the first to practice and one of the last to leave. He’s never been above anything or anyone. There’s never a drill we would run where he didn’t give it his best. The next level is very much doable for him and I think it’s just a matter of choosing where he wants to go and what he wants to do beyond that.

“He’s a great athlete but a great student to have in class. There’s not a lot of good things you can’t say about him.”

Ever since picking up football in the fifth grade and putting on the pads starting in seventh grade, TJ Chiabotti knew football was the game for him. Looking back on this season and the rest of his high school career, he can say it was a good ride.

“It was a great season. Every year was fun. Being on the field with my teammates or having fun before and after the games in the locker room or on the bus. it’ll all be something to look back on.”

The 2021 All-Iron Range football team includes: Ethan Byram (OL/DL), Ty Fabish (QB), Erik Aune (DB/WR) and Jared Chiabotti (DB/RB) of North Woods; Jake Koskela (OL), Beau Barry (RB) and Isaac Asuma (RB) of Cherry; Jude Sundquist (WR/S), Ben Wegener (TE/LB), Nathan Wangensteen (K/P) and Dom Olson (QB) of Chisholm; Tait Kongsjord (OL/DL), Austin Mundt (LB/FB), JoJo Thompson (OT/DE) and Joe Herfindahl (RB/DB) of Deer River; Eddie Prijatel (LB/RB) of Ely; Jack Cleveland (RB/DL), Aiden Chandler (LB/RB), Owen Glenn (RB/DB), J.D. Weston (OL/DL), Dominic Provinzino (LB/QB), Ethan Florek (DB/QB) and Kaydin Metzgar (WR/DB) of Grand Rapids; Cade Predovich (WR) of Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin; Hayden Verhel (TE/LB) and Amari Manning (WR/CB) of Hibbing; Logan Schroeder (RB/LB), Hayden Soular (OL/DL) and Ethan Sickel (OL/DL) of Mesabi East; Asher Zubich (QB/LB), Damian Tapio (RB), Sam Lokken (DE/OT), Hunter Weigel (TE/MLB) and Riley Busch (WR/LB) of Mountain Iron-Buhl and Isaac Flatley (DE), Will Bittmann (TE), Riley Krenz (OL), Jonah Aluni (OL), Ryan Manninen (LB), Jake Burress (RB) and Gavin Dahl (CB/WR) of Rock Ridge.

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