KIMBERLY – Kimberly Papermakers football coach Steve Jones got to experience the NFL at its most grandiose on back-to-back weekends recently.
Jones was one of the two finalists for the Don Shula high school football coach of the year award, which went to Randy Allen of Highland Park (Dallas) at the Pro Bowl on Jan. 29. Both coaches were on hand, as were 29 of the other coaches nominated by the NFL from their franchise cities.
As a finalist, Jones was also invited by the NFL to Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5, where he was able to soak in one of the world’s biggest events as a spectator.
Jones called the experience “unbelievable.”
“With the Pro Bowl weekend there was a lot of professional development involved,” he said. “The USA Football (National) conference was there, so the likes of Jon Gruden and Brian Billick were there. There was a lot of really good speakers down there, so anytime we weren’t at a Pro Bowl practice or Pro Bowl function, we had the opportunity. And the learning that was involved being around some of the best coaches in the country, that was awesome as well.
“The Pro Bowl itself was great. I really grew and learned a lot as a coach as well.”
Jones attended the Pro Bowl in Orlando with his brother John and traveled to Houston the following weekend for the Super Bowl with his wife, Carrie.
“It is an event and the NFL does a great job with it,” Jones said. “They basically blocked off an entire city block in Houston and they have a lot of different events going on and bands, NFL Experiences and autographs. They set up a whole convention center for fans to go in and experience the NFL first-hand.”
During his time there, Jones ran into Carolina Panthers stars Luke Kuechly and Greg Olsen, both teammates of Kimberly graduate A.J. Klein.
“They’re great and really down-to-earth guys,” Jones said. “We sent A.J. a couple of pics of me and Luke and Greg. And he responded that he was at home doing chores.”
Jones mentioned that he let Kuechly and Olsen know how much he appreciated the two players attending the funeral of Klein’s father, who passed away last fall.
Kuechly also came away with a good impression of a local pizzeria.
“All he could talk about was Butch’s Pizza,” Jones said. “I thought that was pretty funny.”
Jones said meeting other top coaches from around the nation and hearing of their experiences through their eyes was the “biggest takeaway.”
“I gained a unique perspective,” Jones said. “The NFL flew down all 32 nominees to the Pro Bowl and we got to interact with each other and those conversations never revolved around X’s and O’s, but about cultures and what you’re doing with your program. There were so many unbelievable coaches there.”
One of the coaches Jones spoke with was Warren Keller, who coaches the California School for the Deaf in Fremont (Calif.).
“He had the commercial by Microsoft done about him. ESPN also did a feature on him,” Jones said.
Jones said he also spoke with coaches who have different challenges altogether than what he experiences at Kimberly.
“I was talking to a coach from Houston that shared with me that their season was going real well until their starting quarterback got shot and killed over a drug deal,” Jones said. “There was a coach from Minneapolis and he was saying how his practice field is right across from where there are often times gunfire and gang-related activity while practice is going on. And I was also talking with Richard Sherman’s coach that has been the head coach at Compton High School (Calif.) for 31 years and all of his experiences.
“I think it was great for me to get outside of Kimberly and outside of the Fox Cities and outside of Wisconsin altogether and get engulfed in these different perspectives.”
The Appleton North girls’ basketball team has been my choice for the top team in Division 1 since the Associated Press began voting in early January.
A deep roster headlined by a trio of veteran guards as good as any in the state — Sydney Levy, Callie Pohlman and Kari Brekke — is a big reason why the Lightning are undefeated at 21-0.
In the latest poll voting, I also moved Appleton West up a spot after some losses in the lower half of the top 10 triggered some downward movement.
Hortonville’s loss to Appleton North last week had me move the Polar Bears down one spot in Division 2, while Freedom and Wrightstown held steady at third and fourth, respectively, in Division 3.
In the boys’ poll voting, Kimberly moved back up to No. 2 after Stevens Point lost to La Crosse Central last week. I still have Kaukauna ranked No. 9 in Division 2 because I’m just a believer that the Ghosts will still make a long postseason run.
Xavier has captured the Bay Conference title and is my No. 1 in Division 3, with Shiocton cracking the top 10 in Division 4 for the first time.
In Division 5, Hilbert is quietly having an outstanding season and I have them ranked No. 3. I really think the Wolves are a good pick to reach the Kohl Center once the playoffs start.
Tess is best
Little Chute senior basketball player Tess Keyzers is one of the top three-sport athletes in the area and recently eclipsed another milestone while playing for the Mustangs.
Keyzers, a 5-foot-8 guard/forward, set the program’s single-game record for points scored with 40 in the Mustangs’ 56-40 win last Thursday over Oconto Falls.
Keyzers also crossed the 1,000-point mark for her career earlier this season.
Cardew heading to Robert Morris
Freedom senior Abby Cardew, who plays for the Fox Cities girls’ hockey team, has signed a national letter of intent to play hockey at Robert Morris University in Chicago.
Cardew, a forward, has 13 goals and 15 assists for the Stars.
Dietzen nets first Big Ten offer
The University of Minnesota has offered Kimberly junior defensive end, Boyd Dietzen, a scholarship. Dietzen announced the offer on Twitter.
The 6-foot-3, 226-pound Dietzen was a catalyst for the Papermakers defense this past season, totaling 15 sacks and 56 total tackles. Dietzen caught a touchdown pass and had five total tackles in Kimberly’s 29-14 victory over Franklin in the WIAA Division 1 championship game in November.
Player Profile: Appleton West senior basketball player Sydney Cocking gives us some insights on the Terrors’ season online Wednesday and in print Thursday.
Varsity Roundtable: The state’s only online high school sports talk show welcomes Kaukauna wrestlers Trent Leon and Mason VanAsten. Showtime is 7 p.m. Wednesday on postcrescent.com.
Livestream: The USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin livestream team of Brett Christopherson, Jim Rosandick and yours truly travels to Oshkosh North tonight for Round 2 of their boys’ basketball matchup this season with Kaukauna. Coverage starts at 7 p.m. on postcrescent.com.
The Chatter travels to Neenah to catch up with Rockets basketball player Zavier Sims and his journey back from a bacterial brain infection that nearly took his life in 2013.
Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-7191 or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @PCRicardo
HOW RICARDO VOTED
How USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin’s Ricardo Arguello voted on this week’s Associated Press poll:
1, Oshkosh North; 2, Kimberly; 3, Stevens Point; 4, Brookfield Central; 5, Madison Memorial; 6, Oak Creek; 7, Milw. Vincent; 8, Bay Port; 9, Muskego; 10, Arrowhead.
1, La Crosse Central; 2, Beaver Dam; 3, Waunakee; 4, Cedarburg; 5, Pewaukee; 6, Milw. Washington; 7, Stoughton; 8, Milw. Pius; 9, Kaukauna; 10, Pulaski.
1, Xavier; 2, Ripon 3;, Lake Mills; 4, Bloomer; 5, Martin Luther; 6, Prescott; 7, Southern Door; 8, Gale-Ettrick-Trempeauleau; 9, Waupun; 10, Madison Edgewood.
1, Destiny; 2, Darlington; 3, Cochrane-Fountain City; 4, Young Coggs Prep; 5, The Prairie School; 6, Stanley-Boyd; 7, Edgar; 8, Deerfield; 9, Regis; 10, Shiocton.
1, Columbus Catholic; 2, Seneca; 3, Hilbert; 4, Barneveld; 5, Bangor; 6, Shullsburg; 7, Almond-Bancroft; 8, Chippewa Falls McDonell; 9, Alma/Pepin; 10, Gresham.
1, Appleton North; 2, Milw. King; 3, De Pere; 4, Germantown; 5, Arrowhead; 6, Mukwonago; 7, Sun Prairie; 8, Hudson; 9, Appleton West; 10, Middleton.
1, Beaver Dam; 2, Pewaukee; 3, Stoughton; 4, West De Pere; 5, New Berlin West; 6, Hortonville; 7, Monroe; 8, Plymouth; 9, Luxemburg-Casco; 10, Union Grove.
1, Whitewater; 2, Martin Luther; 3, Freedom; 4, Wrightstown; 5, Madison Edgewood; 6, Richland Center; 7, Valders; 8, Hayward; 9, Amherst; 10, Bloomer.
1, Oshkosh Lourdes; 2, Aquinas; 3, Melrose-Mindoro; 4, Wisconsin Heights; 5, Neillsville; 6, Laconia; 7, Howards Grove; 8, Marathon; 9, Mineral Point; 10, Wittenberg-Birnamwood.
1, Clayton; 2, Black Hawk; 3, Flambeau; 4, Newman Catholic; 5, Bangor; 6, Loyal; 7, Shullsburg; 8, Riverdale; 9, Chippewa Falls McDonell; 10, Plainfield Tri-County.