After wrapping up the most successful season in Amherst football history, third-year coach Mark Lusic held exit interviews with each player at the end of the 2011 season.
Fresh off a Level 3 appearance in the WIAA Division 5 playoffs, Lusic was wondering how the returning players would view the following season.
Tim Frederickson, a junior lineman last season, was the first player to provide his opinion to the coach. His answer? “I want to go to state.”
Player after player came in for their exit interview, and each and every one of them had the exact same response.
“I said, ‘It’s up to you guys to do it. I would love to come back with you guys'” Lusic said. “I told them I had been there as a player and coach, and there’s nothing like it.”
The players turned those words uttered in the fall of 2011 into actions on the field this season.
As a result, the Falcons will play for the first state football championship in school history Thursday when they meet defending WIAA Division 5 state runner-up Lancaster at 4 p.m. at Camp Randall Stadium.
Lusic acknowledged when he took over the Amherst program before the 2010 season after serving as an assistant coach at Waupaca, he had a three-year plan to reverse the fortunes of the downtrodden program.
Prior to reaching Level 3 of the playoffs last season — a run that resulted in the only playoff wins ever for the program — Amherst had qualified for the playoffs just three times. Each appearance resulted in a first-round loss.
“I figured three years to get the program going, or at least going in the right direction,” said Lusic, who was on the losing side in a WISSA state championship game in Madison as a player at Waukesha Catholic Memorial.
“Last year, winning the conference championship and reaching Level 3, we were probably ahead of schedule,” Lusic added. “We’re happy with where we’re at.”
He gives all the credit for the resurrection of the football program to the players, and the commitment they’ve made on and off the field.
Building off the success of last season, they’ve been relentless in their approach in the weight room and with film study.
For his part, the Falcons coach suggested his biggest contribution with the turnaround has nothing to do with any magical scheme he’s installed, and more to do with convincing the players that the school could be successful on the football field.
“Football was always second fiddle, so we need to change the attitude about football around here. The school always had good athletes, from what I was told, so we had to change the culture,” Lusic said. “They’ve done the work. In the offseason, they really hit the weight room, and they’ve put a lot of time looking at film.”
Now the rest of the state is learning that they play some pretty good football in Amherst, even though it was a long time coming.