Thank you for reading Football Across Minnesota (FAM), my weekly column that tours football topics in our state from preps to pros. You can find all the previous FAM columns right here. — Chip
Owatonna High began playing football in 1893. The school opened its current building in 1921, and the football team began playing in a stadium at that site three years later. The Huskies have had only two head coaches for the past 57 seasons.
Consistency has been a hallmark of that championship program. Major changes are on the way.
The school will move into a new building at a different location in town next fall, and the campus will feature a state-of-the-art football stadium for a program that has won three state championships since 2013.
The pending move is fueling mixed emotions in Owatonna because of the emotional connection multiple generations have for the current school and fall Friday nights at the stadium.
“It will be an emotional time because so many great things have happened there,” head coach Jeff Williams said. “So many really positive memories, and some rip-your-heart-out memories too of difficult losses.”
The city and school district decided to proceed with building a new school rather than undergo an extensive renovation after “dipping our toe in the water for 15 years on this,” Williams said.
Community pride in Huskies football is strong, which makes change especially hard. Playing in the same stadium for almost a century creates nostalgic charm.
“This is Year 99 on that field,” Williams said. “This is the same dirt that Herb Joesting and Noel Jenke and Jason Williamson ran on. Pretty cool.”
Construction on the new school is progressing, and Williams expects the turf will be installed in the stadium “before snow flies” this winter.
Plans call for several practice fields equipped with artificial turf and lights. The Huskies also will have access to a grass practice field to prepare for road venues with that surface. Stadium seating capacity will be 3,500, plus standing room only.
“We’ve got a lot of old-timers that like to stand along the fence line and offer their advice,” Williams joked. “We’ll make sure they still have that opportunity.”
Only two head coaches have heard that advice since the mid-1960s. The late Jerry Peterson ran the program from 1966-96. Williams, who was Peterson’s assistant for seven seasons, took over for him when he retired.
Williams’ longtime defensive coordinator, Marc Achterkirch, doubles as Owatonna’s athletic director. Both he and Williams were on the committee that helped design the new stadium. Achterkirch called Williams after one meeting and asked that they make a pact: They agreed to both coach at least one season in the new stadium before deciding their future plans.
“So I think I’m pretty obligated to at least christen the new stadium,” Williams said. “After that, we’ll see what happens.”
The Huskies are 1-1 this season. Williams said his players have expressed a range of emotions in the final year in their school and stadium. Mostly excitement with some sentimentality mixed in.
“The clock is ticking on this grand old lady,” he said. “It’s going to be kind of tough to say goodbye.”
In 2016, I wrote about an incredible gesture that former Gophers football player Doobie Kurus made for his teammate Ed Hawthorne after learning that Hawthorne was sick and in need of a kidney transplant.
Kurus gave Hawthorne one of his kidneys in a transplant surgery performed at the M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center. Hawthorne says Kurus saved his life.
Six years later, both are doing well physically, and Kurus is planning a special event tied to kidney donation at the Gophers home game against Colorado on Saturday to celebrate his 50th birthday next week.
Hawthorne said he feels “fantastic” since receiving the kidney. His oldest son, Myles, is a starting linebacker at Winona State. His son Bryce is a senior at Osseo who plays rush end on defense and fullback on offense and has committed to play at South Dakota State.
Hawthorne, a former all-Big Ten nose tackle, stays busy watching his sons pursue their passion for football.
“I’m enjoying life and I’m taking full advantage of it,” Hawthorne said. “I haven’t had any issues or setbacks.”
Kurus quickly returned to his active lifestyle not long after recovering from surgery. He is competing in triathlons and plays pickleball regularly.
“This is probably the healthiest point of my life,” he said.
As he considered how to celebrate his 50th birthday, Kurus decided to raise awareness for the National Kidney Foundation and the importance of organ donation through a pregame tailgate in the Maroon Lot on Saturday.
Kurus bought 50 tickets to give to family and friends. Guests at his tailgate will include former teammates and representatives from the Kidney Foundation and his transplant team from the university medical center.
Gophers sports marketing is sending Goldy Gopher and the cheerleading squad to make an appearance at the festivities. Kurus’ daughter Emma plays in the marching band, so a contingent of bandmates will stop by. Kurus also invited fellow kidney donors.
“With me turning 50, it changes perspective on life,” he said. “It’s been six years and good things are still happening.”
“Obviously, you’d always like to have a bunch of Mos. More Mos. Mo’ Mos. Just keep bringing ’em, right? He’s special.” — Gophers coach P.J. Fleck on star running back Mohamed Ibrahim.
. . .
Lakeville South at Eden Prairie, Friday at 7 p.m. This is a heavyweight matchup between the top teams in the metro. The Cougars handled Eden Prairie 42-7 last September en route to an undefeated season.
Kevin O’Connell. It’s hard to imagine scripting a better start to his tenure as Vikings coach than what took place Sunday. The mood in the locker room was joyful after the win, but now the next challenge awaits: the first road game of the season in Philadelphia on “Monday Night Football.” O’Connell has an extra day of preparation to plan for how the Eagles might defend his scheme now that they have tape on it.
A FAM FINAL WORD
I know, I know. That’s a dangerous word to Minnesota sports fans. You have become conditioned to pain and suffering and inevitable heartbreak. It’s just who we are. But go ahead and allow yourself, if only for a moment, to appreciate the first impressions made by the Gophers and Vikings. Both teams looked well-prepared and executed at a high level. It’s OK to feel encouraged by that.
Thank you for reading Football Across Minnesota. I’ll publish this each Tuesday for your lunchtime reading. I appreciate feedback so please reach out anytime.
Chip (@chipscoggins on Twitter)
Chip Scoggins is a sports columnist and enterprise writer for the Star Tribune. He previously covered the Vikings, Gophers football, Wild, Wolves and high school sports in nearly 19 years at the paper.
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