When Luke Mitchell addressed Holdingford football players after being named the Huskers head coach in the spring, he had some simple points to get across.
“The biggest thing was how high our expectations are. (Former coach) Mark (Messman) always had high expectations and in the ’90s and 2000s, those expectations were met. The last couple years, they weren’t met,” said Mitchell, who was a freshman football coach for the Huskers before taking over. “We had decent teams a couple years ago and we were about .500.
“But this school is used to conference and section championships.”
From 1996-2005, the Huskers had 10 straight winning seasons, went 81-28 and made the state playoffs three times. From 2006-11, the Huskers were 18-38 and had one winning season.
Messman accepted a job as the superintendent of the Eden Valley-Watkins school district at the end of the last school year. Enter Mitchell, a former Albany High School football player who is entering his fifth school year as a coach at Holdingford.
“The coaches are bringing back a lot of energy and there’s new coaches, new blood and I think it’s good,” said junior Mitch Messman, Mark’s oldest son. “It’s a fun tempo. We’re working hard out here.
“They’re bringing new drills and new things to do. There’s just a little more energy.”
And there has been more conditioning.
“We do a lot of running,” said Jon Skwira, who is beginning his third season as a starting linebacker. “What we used to do for conditioning, we do for fun now, I guess.”
Skwira was smiling as he said that, but it is something that Mitchell will stand by.
“Last year, we got our tails kicked at the line of scrimmage,” said Mitchell, whose team was 3-7 in 2011. “We had to get better up front. That’s not always a technique thing. there’s only so much technique you can teach these kids. Somewhere, you’ve got to have size and strength in there.”
To help give athletes incentive to work out during the offseason, the athletic department decided to add a weight lifting letter. Athletes who were in the weight room for 30 out of 45 possible workouts during the summer will receive a varsity letter.
Mitchell said that about 25 out of the 55 players who are out for football in grades 9-12 were in the weight room regularly over the summer. Returning players have a common theme when asked what is different about the difference between this camp and previous season’s camps.
The Huskers have seven starters back on offense, led by Messman, who is beginning his third year as the starting quarterback, and Jon Skwira. Skwira led the team in rushing yards last season.
Defensively, Holdingford has eight starters back led by linebackers Matt Messman (82 tackles), Skwira (67 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries), tackle Jordan Gombos (53 tackles, 3.5 sacks), end Mitch Merten (50 tackles), linebacker Taylor Milbrant (37 tackles), Mitch Messman (45 tackles) and cornerback Cody Schwinghammer (26 tackles, 3 interceptions). Mitch Messman started at outside linebacker last year and is moving to defensive end this year.
“Defensively, we like to hit people and make a lot of noise,” Milbrandt said. “It’s a lot of fun playing with these guys.”
Mitchell said he is enjoying planning the practices and the experienced group that he has inherited.
“We have 15 seniors and 11 juniors, which really makes it easy,” said Mitchell, who is also a third-grade teacher and junior varsity baseball coach. “We’re teaching everything. These kids know a lot already; a lot of game experience.”