Finally … a state title after being so close

By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Editor

Rick Nelson had encountered several near misses in his quest for an Iowa state championship during his first five seasons as the Ankeny High head coach before finally taking his team to the promised land this fall. Nelson marveled at his players’ collective commitment this season to finally get over the hump.

“We made them fill out a questionnaire every day,” Nelson said. “We took their temperatures every day. We did workouts in the summer with smaller groups. We usually have 60 to 80 kids in the weight room. We had to do it in shifts of 20. We used the junior high weight room as well, with about 30 over there and 60 at the high school.”

After spending the spring season doubting whether high school football could be played during a pandemic, Nelson started to feel a sense of optimism by June or July.

“Seven of the starters on our baseball team were also football players,” Nelson said. “They made it to the state championship game over the summer, so they couldn’t be around the football team during that time. That was tough, but we had a special session for the baseball players. Our shortstop is also our quarterback, so he couldn’t throw to anyone until August. But even with all of that going against us, I started to get a sense that these players wouldn’t be denied.”