In the fall of 1965, the Wilber and Clatonia School Districts became one. My high school football coach at Clatonia during my freshman year was Don Clark. Clark was an excellent coach but chose to be an administrator in the new school.
My new coach was Frank Elliott. He was a big guy, fresh from All-American honors at Fairbury Junior College and Doane College. I know I was intimidated. Not as intimidated as I was with the number one assistant, Irv Friesen.
Friesen commanded respect. He was loud and never missed a kid that jogged when he should have run. He was the coach during stretching that would walk on our stomachs during leg lifts to see if we could take a little pain.
I not only was intimidated, but I was impressed with their football knowledge. We had a big, fast team that I thought could win a lot of games. What did I know? My Clatonia eight-man team had only won a single game in 1964.
That first game was against Hebron. The city of Hebron was about the size of Wilber or about 1,500 people. It seemed to me we were playing a team from a major Nebraska city.
Coach Elliott had the first play well designed. It was a fake run and pass play to the tight end. I forget our tight end’s name, but he was a big, athletic kid with great hands.
I will never forget the first play of my football career at Wilber-Clatonia High School. As I stood on the sidelines in my new green jersey (Clatonia school color was red), I watched a great fake to our running back. The linebackers bought the fake and jumped at the running back. So did the safety. As the tight end ran past everyone, all the quarterback had to do was lay the ball over the fooled defense and we would be on the board.
That’s exactly what happened. It was a 70-yard touchdown pass and I was sure no one could touch the new-look Wolverines with all the new in-plants from seven miles to the east. That’s not what happened. Things took a slide downward from that point.
I think we might have won more games than we lost, but only by one game. A death of a popular athlete from heart surgery and many injuries doomed the Wolverines. However, I’ll never forget how it all began.
Wilber-Clatonia must not have had a great impression on Coach Elliott. Sadly, he died of cancer in 2011. In his obituary, they miss-spelled Wilber (Wilbur). Irv Friesen turned out to be a great administrator. I always got a note from him if one of my teams had a big win.
About 15 years later, I found myself as the defensive coordinator of the Wilber-Clatonia football team. The head coach was Steve Joel, now Dr. Steve Joel, the superintendent of the Lincoln Public Schools. Steve thought I knew something about football because I had been a second-hand assistant at a state-ranked program.
I thought he might be right as we steam-rolled through the first three games of the season, including the Hebron team from that fateful, first season. Then came Tri-County.
The arch-rival had a great passing attack and my true knowledge finally showed. We blitzed, changed from man to man coverage to zone and everything I could think of. Coach Joel let loose his frustration on his players and his defensive coordinator. After the 30-point loss, I was sure I would be fired on the spot. As it turned out, Coach Joel didn’t even realize he had yelled at me or how bad of a football coach I really was.
The new Maryville Spoofhounds season is about to begin. I saw every game the past four years doing color for Geoff Conn and ’97.1, the Vill. I am giving up my place in the press box, but I’ll still be a huge fan every Friday.
Last year, I thought a .500 season might be in the cards. After getting blistered in Chillicothe and run out by Smithville, I held about zero chance of a run at a state championship. Again, I showed my lack of knowledge of football. The defense and running game really jelled.
The play I’ll never forget is after Jacob Reuter, our tough middle linebacker, left due to injury in the district finals at Chillicothe. The next play the Hornets ran the ball right up the middle for about 40 yards. Not so fast, Chillicothe, there is a yellow flag on the field. The Hornets were leading 12 – 0 at the time. I don’t think they had another first down as the Spoofhounds rallied.
I’ll also will never forget the leadership of Jalen Sundell and the sacrifices the seniors made to bring home the state championship. Coach Matt Webb might have won his first two state championships with superior talent, but it was his coaching in 2017. Finally, I’ll be forever grateful how the team and coaches allowed for my son, Sam, to be part of the program.
I have heard that this year’s version of Spoofhound football might be the best ever. That might seem hard to believe, but with our great coaching staff and hard-working players, I think those people talking may be right. Stay healthy and give me a play to remember.