Friday, February 16, 2007

NHS Football Series

Sorry for the long delay. I've not been in the mood to post. I've decided to switch directions--at least temporarily--to do a historical review of Northwestern High School football. It should be fun. You can also find it at my new blog www.HONsports.blogspot.com. We'll see how that place goes. I've got low hopes.

Northwestern Tiger Football—Historical Series

Northwestern High School is located in Maple, WI, basically the northernmost part of Wisconsin—only minutes from Lake Superior. It is a small school—enrollment of around 420. Over the past twenty years, it has had an outstanding football program. If you include only the northwestern part of the state (from Minnesota on I-94 east to Eau Claire, Hwy 53/63 north to Ashland and Superior), there are probably only a handful of high school football programs with more consistent success than NHS since 1987. Menomonie is definitely the best—they’ve had consistency as well as state championships. Other schools have achieved greater highs (multiple state championships and appearances)—Somerset comes to mind, but their level of success has come more recently. Northwestern was known state-wide as a football school.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to chronicle much of the history of NHS football. I’ll start today by giving a general overview of the program. Next, I’ll rank the players at all offensive and defensive positions. I will only include players from 1988 on, since (A) those are the only players I know about and (B) that is the period during which NHS football was actually relevant. Then I’ll probably make a list of the Top 10 NHS football players of all time. Then I’ll rank the greatest NHS teams of all time.

My scope of knowledge on this topic is pretty broad. I grew up in the area. I watched first-hand each of these teams (1988-2006) play—personally or on film, with the exception of 2006. I have heard plenty of anecdotal stories regarding players and teams. There is a limited amount of statistical data available, but where I can find some, I will certainly publish it. Everything published in this space will be solely my own opinion. There were lots of good football players, and if I leave someone out, I’d be glad to hear about it in the comments section.

Introduction

Since 1988, NHS has won 8 conference championships, including six of eight from 1993 to 2000. They qualified for the WIAA playoffs 15 times in 19 years, including 11 straight years from 1991 to 2001. NHS qualified for the Wisconsin state championship game twice, in 1993 and 1988. In 1988, they were state champions, holding a perfect 13-0 record, with their closest contest being the state championship game—a 31-7 victory over Prairie du Chein. They were known for their very physical style of play—hard hitting with big, strong, and quick lineman. They were also known for their version of the double wing offense, involving three running backs that were often in motion, as well as much pulling and trapping. NHS had numerous all-state players during this time, as well as several who received scholarships to play collegiate football. Three NHS athletes received full scholarships from Big Ten schools. One became an All-American and played in the NFL.

The Coaches

The Pelkey Era (1988)
Northwestern football dominance began when Coach Bill Pelkey took over the program in the mid-80s. He brought with him a unique version of the double wing offense. Based primarily on precise repetition of a handful of plays—many of which appeared the same to the defense—Coach Pelkey led the Tigers to a share of the 1987 Heart O’ North Conference Championship in 1987, with their lone loss coming to state champion Hayward. In 1988, Northwestern steamrolled its way to a WIAA Division Three State Championship. The 1988 Northwestern team is regarded as one of the most dominant teams in the state’s history. It is rumored that Wisconsin’s mercy rule was fashioned after the 1988 Tiger team; however, outside of a 70-0 dismantling of the Chetek Bulldogs, they did not run up the score. (Chetek chose to leave their starters in throughout the second half, so NHS put their first team back into the game). Most games were over by half time, and only in the state title game did the first teamers play well into the fourth quarter. Bill Pelkey is in the Wisconsin Football Coaches Hall of Fame.

The Lind Era (1989-1996)
Coach Andy Lind—a defensive assistant under Pelkey—took the reigns of the program in the early-90s. Lind sustained the strong foundation of NHS football based almost entirely on a superb running game and hard-hitting defense. The strength of the running game led NHS to another visit to the state championship game in 1993, where they would fall to Lancaster. Also known as an intense, animated, and passionate motivator, Lind led the Tigers to three straight conference championships, including two in the short-lived conference realignment scheme called the NFL (1995-1995). It also included one HON championship in 1993 and a playoff upset of undefeated Osceola in 1992. Lind also led them to the state semi-finals in 1995, losing to an upstart Stanley-Boyd team. The 1995 squad boasted one of the top offenses in the state under watch of offensive coordinator Dennis Scherz, who took over play-calling duties when Pelkey stepped down as head coach and refined certain aspects of the offense. The Lind Era ended when Lind resigned as head coach following the 1996 season.

The Kosey Era (1997-2004)
Defensive coordinator Ray Kosey—a former UW-Superior standout safety and defensive coordinator under Lind—took the head coaching position beginning with the 1997 season. Despite a more reserved approach to coaching, Kosey had immediate success, winning a HON conference in his first season, with only two losses to Duluth Central and Colby (Playoffs, 2nd round), respectively. Kosey was also the defensive coordinator during his tenure, producing solid 4-4 defensive that gave up few big plays. The offense remained the same for most of Kosey Era, led by both Scherz and Coach Bob DeMeyer. Kosey won HON conference championships in 1997, 1999, 2000 (including an undefeated regular season), and 2004. He missed the playoffs only once. Despite plenty of regular season success, Kosey never managed to reach the state title game, his closest attempt coming in 1998 when the Tigers came within one game of the title game.

The DeMeyer Era (2005)
Bob DeMeyer took over after Kosey’s resignation following the 2004 season. DeMeyer had been the offensive coordinator since the 2000 season. DeMeyer changed the offense a bit, relying more on the quarterback’s ability to run and pass. The Tigers became more diverse under DeMeyer, relying less on the strict rules and formations of the double wing. His only season as head coach resulted in a playoff berth. DeMeyer left to coach the Superior Spartans. He followed Kosey, who had become Superior’s Activities Director a year before.

The Lawton Era (2006)
After DeMeyer’s departure for Superior, NHS moved for the first time in almost twenty years for a coach from outside the program. Peter Lawton, Spooner High School and Minnesota-Duluth standout offensive lineman, was hired. With him came the first wholesale offensive and defensive schematic changes. The Tigers suffered their first real down year in 2006, but more talent is on the way. Also, the Tigers should be more comfortable in Lawton’s system after the rebuilding year.

Conclusion
We’re off and running on this history of NHS football. Enjoy. Comment. Let me know what you think.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought it was very informative, but lacked info about each year's high and low lights and each outstanding player...