Posted On: 05/2/17 12:00 AM

Dating back to shortly after he was hired as the head coach of the Owatonna Huskies, Jeff Williams and the football program have had a long run of successful seasons.

Thirteen times since Williams became the head coach, the Huskies have won at least six games. They have won four section titles, played in three Prep Bowls and earned a state title in 2013. The Huskies were successful before he took over, but Williams feels the program has maintained a long stretch of success because of the hard work the kids and coaches put in at the beginning of Williams time.

“Jim Collins wrote a book called ‘Good to Great’,” Williams said. “In it, he talks about a fifty ton stone that is carved into a circle, and they use that to mill grain. It is attached to a post in the center, and you have to go to the outside of that stone and exert all your pressure against it. After about three years of exerting all your pressure against it, the stone moves and inch. Then it moves two inches. Then it goes five inches. All of the sudden it starts to gain some momentum. Now that fifty-ton wheel that had inertia keeping it stopped is now in motion, and the inertia is now keeping it in motion. It becomes easier to push. At some point its own weight allows it to spin on its own.”

“We’ve been pushing on that wheel for twenty-two years and if you go back to 1957 with Neal Davis,” Williams continued, “we’ve been pushing on the wheel for the better part of fifty years. (The program) is starting to spin on its own.”

Well before Williams was pushing any wheels, he was a kid playing football for the first time.

“I started playing in third grade in Rochester. My dad was the head coach at Rochester John Marshall after I graduated, but before that, he was an assistant at various levels, so football has always been an important part of our family.”

Williams played for two years at Rochester Lourdes and then before his junior year transferred to John Marshall where he played defensive back for two years. Although by his own admission he ‘was a very average football player’ he watched and learned.

“(Former John Marshall coach) John Drews was a big role model on how you approach the game. In ninth and tenth grade I got to play under Joe Mayer and Denny Nigon. Those coaches and programs influenced a lot of the beliefs I have about how the game is supposed to be played and how classy coaches coach it.”

In college, the coaching seed was planted in Williams. He played in a full pads dorm football league for three years. During his fourth year, he decided to coach the team.

“I had never thought about coaching and teaching,” Williams said, “but it showed me that might be an avenue to pursue.”

After earning his biology degree, he went back to school his education degree. Out of college, he coached under his dad at John Marshall as a secondary coach for two years.

“What I gained from my dad was the importance of developing personal relationships with kids, so they had a reason to play the game over and above the enjoyment of football. We are a family. We are in this thing together and have fun together.”

In 1989 Williams took a job at Owatonna and was an assistant for the Huskies for seven years under Jerry Peterson before becoming the head coach.

“It wasn’t like I was taking over a program that was in a rebuilding phase,” Williams said. “It was difficult because I had my own thoughts on how the program should be run, but on the other hand I was replacing a legend; a guy who is in the Hall of Fame, a thirty-year guy.”

Williams didn’t want to overhaul the program but realized football was changing.

“When I took over in 1996 we split out an end for probably the first time in Owatonna history. We had been double tight until then.”

Williams has never had a problem getting interest in his program from the community. Williams has always been impressed by the number of fans show up – regardless of the sport – in the community. Although slowly changing a system that worked might have had the community wondering if they picked the right man to replace a man synonymous with Owatonna football, success came quickly.

Along with Williams, success continued to come and change to the Huskies’ football program came in the form of defensive coordinator Marc Achterkirch. Achterkirch played for Dave Nelson when Nelson was at Blaine. Achterkirch joined the staff as a volunteer at Owatonna and worked his way up to defensive coordinator.

“He is my right-hand man,” Williams said. “Every big decision we make in our program we make together. He came with some suggestions from Coach Nelson. He allowed me to see some different perspectives in both systems and in developing relationships with kids.”

Williams and Achterkirch changed the program on and off the field.

“We tried to model ourselves after Blaine and Coach Nelson,” Williams told northstarfootballnews. “We turned Owatonna into a year-round program with a great strength training program, with camps and clinics we run for kids, and modifying some of our offensive and defensive systems to make them look closer to what is going on in college right now. When you have been doing something for so long – as Owatonna had been – you need a disrupter. I think Achterkirch was the disrupter.”

The other disruptor in the Owatonna program came in the form of the Oregon Ducks. Under Chip Kelly, once a year the Ducks hosted a week long coaches’ clinic teaching their spread, up-tempo offense.

“I went out there for five straight years,” Williams said. “It has changed our view of the game of football. It has changed our entire offensive system, and it has made us more effective defending some things that are now more cutting edge in football.”

The coaching staff didn’t have to go to Eugene, Oregon to change the defense. A game in 1997 against Faribault was enough.

“We were playing for the conference title,” Williams recalled. “We were 7-0, and I think they were 7-0 and they beat us 52-0. They absolutely exposed us defensively.”

The Huskies went from a 5-2 defense that was successful for years, to a defense that – depending on the opponent – shows multiple fronts, but is easy for the kids to learn.

“I couldn’t even tell you what kind of defense we are,” Williams admitted. “We are based on solid principles. We pursue to the ball; we are man to man. We are going to bring people after the quarterback. We are going to make you throw quickly – we are not going to cover for seven seconds. That has become our trademark; we are going to try to get after offenses.”

Keeping the Wheel Turning

Even though the program had been successful, for a long time, it was likely the third or maybe fourth most popular sport in the school. The basketball, wrestling and baseball teams have all been solid and were winning state titles. Trying to turn the program into a year-round program could have caused problems with coaches and kids.

“We made a concerted effort into including all sports,” Williams explained. “To get other sports on board it wasn’t Owatonna football lifting; it was Husky Power. We hired an unbelievable strength coach named Jerry Eggermont. He has been instrumental in putting together a football and all-sport lifting operation – selling the other sports on the importance of lifting. Stronger is better no matter what sport you play. Our coaches have jumped on board with that. It is not a football thing. It has become an ‘all of our thing.'”

On the field, they have moved to the spread, but offensively their thing is still power, off tackle football.

“We pride ourselves on being a tough, off tackle, trap, sweep, old-school Wing-T team,” the Huskies’ head coach said. “In our practices we have receivers running around like Bambi and our linemen, and our tailbacks are still down in the trenches playing 1930’s football. We have a cool blend at practice, and our kids buy into that.”

Behind Williams and long-time offensive line coach Doug Wanous, they will run the power running game until the defense stops it, but moving to a spread offense has helped the program expand the number of athletes that feel they can find success on the football field.

“Of the five starting basketball players this year, four of them were starters on the football team,” Williams said. “I don’t know if that is the case in a lot of places. We try to do things in our program that appeal to kids that play other sports.”

Williams and his staff not only made the weight lifting program for all, but they have also made the football program all-inclusive.

“We are not a big enough school to have kids specialize,” Williams admitted. “We have found ways to communicate with and support kids. If a kid has a Legion baseball game on a Monday night and we are scheduled for seven on seven, the kid is going to play Legion baseball. If we have a team camp and a kid has an AAU basketball game, the kid is going to play AAU basketball. We try to be the program that accommodates the kids because we are the program that needs everyone. We need the best athletes in our school to be on the football team, and we will bend over backward to make sure we can accommodate them. We have built a year-round football operation, but one of the most important tenants of that is playing basketball is part of your year-round football operation, wrestling, and track and field is part of your football operation. Please go compete in your other sports that will help us on Friday nights.”

Monday through Thursday in the fall Williams and his staff run a high-paced practice.

“We have not run a wind sprint in practice in well over a decade. We don’t do any conditioning. Our kids’ practice football 100 miles per hour, no huddle, our individual time is fast; our kids are running all the time. During team time we are running four or five plays a minute. We are going as fast as we can.”

The coaching staff has been together for years, so the stone has been able to roll on its own and has allowed Williams to concentrate on the overall program.

“I am able to make sure our systems are in place in the elementary and junior high levels to make sure we have the right coaches in place to put a program together the kids want to be a part of,” the former John Marshall Rocket said. “Although I still love calling plays on Friday nights and am not giving that up, the majority of my role in Owatonna football is more of a CEO of the football program.”

The wheel turns on its own because of the CEO and also because the kids have taken ownership of the program.

“When the kids come into our program in ninth grade they are being influenced by great kids who know how it is supposed to be done,” Williams added. “They were taught by great kids three years earlier how it is supposed to be done. We don’t have to talk about culture with our kids. They just have to watch the seniors and what they do.”

Williams knows the culture can’t rest. Each year the coaches talk to the captains about the culture, about how to handle themselves and teammates on and off the field.

“What has taken fifteen years to build can be undone by one class – one class of kids that maybe makes bad decisions and thinks about themselves before they think about their team. Those years of work can be dashed on the rocks within one year. You can’t be complacent. We can’t let the inertia of the wheel get destroyed because of a couple of bad decisions. It will take fifteen years to build it back up. We’ve got to find a way to keep the wheel spinning and not have to start over from scratch.”

Some of the guys next year who will be in charge of keeping the culture healthy include a trio of receivers: Alex Raichle (NFN 29th ranked 2018 prospect) who also starts in the secondary, Noah Budach (122) and Dalton Kubista. Quarterback Abe Havelka (208) is also back along with both offensive tackles – Terrell Conner and Kadyn Mulert (199). Jason Williamson (2019 Watch List) rushed for 1600 yards last season and is only going to be a junior. Defensively they will be led by linebackers Zach Mensing (202) and Mitch Wiese.

Williams knows what they do in the Owatonna football program has little to do with winning and losing.

“The most important thing we can do as coaches is to teach kids to care enough about something to invest in it with everything they have, and if they can do that as adults, they are going to be successful.”

If they can continue to commit, the wheel will continue to spin, and the Huskies will continue to win for years to come.