Two weeks in a National Football League training camp left Dick Wherry with a lifetime of memories.
Wherry was one of two Northern State athletes to be drafted into the National Football League. Wherry, a flanker, was taken in the 13th round as the 333rd overall pick in 1968 after his senior year with the Wolves.
“I was working at the Coca-Cola plant in Aberdeen when I got the call from the general manager that I was drafted,” said Wherry, who now lives in Milbank. “(Being drafted) wasn’t a surprise, just in what round.”
Today’s draftees sometimes hear in advance from the teams who draft them. That was not the case for Wherry, who had no communication with the Vikings.
“There were several scouts that would show up in Aberdeen or other locations,” he said. “I was contacted heavily by an agent company out of New York, and signed a contract.”
Wherry said that the company had him “hyped up” as being a top-three draft pick, but he had his doubts about that.
“I wasn’t very confident that would happen,” Wherry said.
Other teams also had interest in him, including British Columbia of the Canadian Football League and the Dallas Cowboys. Wherry met with Minnesota’s general manager in Minneapolis to complete the paperwork. Minnesota’s general manager at the time was Jim Finks, who went on to work with the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints of the NFL and the Chicago Cubs of Major League Baseball.
“We sat there for a half an hour and signed a thousand-dollar contract," Wherry said. "He gave me $35 and told me to take my folks and wife out to eat.”
Wherry’s signing bonus was $1,000, and his original contract was $12,000 if he would have made the team, the league minimum at the time.
Training camp was in Mankato, Minn., for two weeks, and Wherry said it was a very intense time for a rookie. Among those present were future Hall of Famers Carl Eller and Alan Page.
“We would do 10-yard and 20-yard wind sprints. I had a hard time keeping up with those guys; they were very fast,” Wherry said.
Off the field, Wherry said the atmosphere had a more mental effect on the newer players, who were sometimes asked to stand on tables during meals to sing their school fight song from college.
“The practices weren’t so bad, but the worst part was mixing with the guys at dinner or going out at night,” Wherry said. “They would really try to work you over mentally. That was tough for me.”
Wherry was cut two weeks into training camp by coach Bud Grant.
“He called me into his office and said, 'if you had played a little higher level of competition in college, you’d have made (the team),' ” Wherry said.
After being cut, Wherry said he had a chance to go play in Canada or to a minor-league team in Omaha, Neb. Having a wife and a child to support, he made a different choice. He had one semester left to get his teaching degree, so he went back to school.
Wherry recalled his days at Northern State College, as it was called then, saying the team ran a more ground-based offense.
“We had such good athletes and had good runners. It was a power running game,” he said. “Then they started being more diverse and got some good quarterbacks that liked to pass. During my sophomore year, Northern started to be a more pro-style offense and more wide open to suit the personnel.”
Wherry, who started for three years for the Wolves, put up some impressive numbers. During his junior year, he led the NAIA with 13 touchdown receptions, catching 51 passes for 1,050 yards. His yardage total was the third best in the NAIA. He was also named All-Conference two years and All-District two years, and was an All-American honorable mention his senior season.
He came to NSC as a halfback but was converted into the flanker position.
“I was 6-foot-2 and 168 pounds and awful slim,” Wherry said. “(Northern) switched me right away. They didn’t have flankers my freshman year. Everything was tight ends.”
Wherry, 65, is a retired school teacher. He still stays active as he drives bus, owns a snow-removal business and serves a tour guide on Lake Oahe.
“I have a lot of hobbies that I get paid for,” Wherry said.