It would be hard for an audience to believe the incredible story which was the 2019 DeForest prep football season. The Norskies storybook season sounds almost too good to be true.
The Norskies capped off a perfect 14-0 season with a thrilling 8-7 victory over Menasha in the WIAA Division 3 state championship game.
“I’m just so happy and love everybody here,” DeForest senior defensive tackle Alonzo Blevins said. “I can’t believe the support we have from the community. I can’t stop crying. It is just unbelievable.”
The plot to the story starts with DeForest’s incredibly talented senior class of 22 athletes, including Logan Bierman, Cole Yocum, Trey Schroeder, Raudel Guerrero, Adam Szepieniec, Trevor Konopacki, Marlon Cystrunk, Alex Endres, Evan Armstrong, Devin Morand-Rivers, Jett Riese, Jack Thennes, Brad Waddell, Greg Sheldon, Edwyn Erickson, Adam White, Colby Hartig, Blevins, Lake Larson, Taylor Van Ooyen, Kody Kuchar and Trey Warne..
“We have an amazing group of seniors,” Norski coach Mike Minick said. “We love these guys. They are fighters and they don’t quit. They are going to play until there are zeros on the clock.”
The majority of the seniors began playing early in youth football.
“We have been together since the fourth grade and have been working hard since our freshman year,” Endres said.
The senior group started to make an impact at the varsity level as sophomores and took a big step forward last season as juniors.
Last season, the Norskies went 8-3 and made it to Level 2 of the playoffs, where they lost to Waunakee 23-20.
It was after that lost to the Warriors, that the work for this seasons’ championship run began.
“Last year when we lost to Waunakee, we knew what we had and we were going to be ready for this season,” Hartig said. “We worked hard all offseason to be ready for this moment.”
The leadership of this year’s senior class left an impression on their teammates.
“They gave us a perspective as to what we need to do to lead a team,” junior running back Gabe Finley said. “They showed us how to work hard on and off the field. It is going to be a big change with them and coach Minick gone next season.”
There were several emotional plot twists late in the season.
Former DeForest coach Jerry Roelke lost his battle with cancer on Oct. 8, but not before he got to see his beloved Norskies one last time at the end of September.
Roelke led the Norskies to their only other state title in 1982. Minick was a key player on that team.
“He meant so much to so many people,” Minick said. “We can carry on his legacy with what he taught us. All those lessons and things he instilled in us, is our job to pass down to the next group.”
In his final two seasons of a 50-year coaching career at DeForest, Roelke coached this year’s juniors and seniors as freshmen.
“We all know that he was watching over us today,” Erickson said after the state title game. “He was a special coach and this was a special moment.”
The second plot twist came when Minick announced this would be his final season as head coach.
“He is like another dad to us,” Blevins said. “We are all a big family.”
The Norskies made it their mission to have Minick go out on top.
“It is surreal to have coach Minick get a title in his last year,” Erickson said.
Minick did go out on top after his second trip to the state championship game in his coaching tenure. The Norskies were the state runner-ups in 2007.
Minick finished his time at his alma mater with an overall record of 162-7.
“This is how you would write the ending, but I’m going to miss it,” Minick said. “I’m going to miss the practices, the kids and the coaches, but I probably will hover around a little bit.”
Minick isn’t the only member of the staff that has a long history with the program, as assistant coaches Jay Matthews, Chad Yocum, Kris Tudor, Mark Hinner Matt Kimmes, Eric Hamele, Eric Stewart, Brett Minick, Todd Grundahl, Nicky Housewerth and Nathan Kemp are all DeForest graduates.
Yocum and Grundahl both had the privilege of coaching their sons on this year’s team. Cole Yocum was a starting defensive end for the Norskies, while Trace Grundahl was a starting defensive back.
Cole Yocum got the chance to play at Camp Randall Stadium, the same field his dad played on as a member of the Wisconsin Badgers in the early 1990s, and loved every second of it.
“I thought about playing on the same field as my dad at the beginning of the week and how cool that is,” Cole said. “I give all the credit to my dad. He has been the best coach I have ever had. He has been great and I love him.”
The story came to a remarkable end with the incredible come-from-behind victory over Menasha in the championship game.
“It is a roller coaster of emotions right now,” Erickson said. “We won a state title, but this is our last game together.”
Although this group of Norskies will never play together again, they have left a memory that will last forever.
“I love these guys,” Cole Yocum said. “It is going to be hard to not be grinding away with them at practice and in the weight room. I’m proud of all of them.”
It meant the world to the Norskies to bring glory back to the community.
“This is for coach Roelke, for my grandma, for all these fans, for the coaches and the players,” Schroeder said. “This is for everybody.”