Rebels football program aims to continue the dynastyMany opponents look up to the Moose Lake-Willow River football dynasty with good reason. The Rebels have been to every Class AA state tournament since 2005.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Jake Disterhaupt said there are days in the small classrooms at Willow River High School where he looks out the window to watch playground football at recess. He sees elementary kids playing their hearts out and rushing for touchdowns, only to get high-fives from the varsity guys afterward.
He did the same thing when he was that age.
“It’s always been like that here in Willow, and I would expect the same in Moose, too,” said the 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior running back. “Little kids are always out there playing at recess. I did it, too. Kids look up to the big football players.”
Many opponents look up to the Moose Lake-Willow River football dynasty as well, with good reason. The Rebels have been to every Class AA state tournament since 2005.
The ML-WR players use their successes – and their failures – as a motivator. Last year, ML-WR lost to Caledonia in the Prep Bowl, adding another championship loss to the 2009 loss against Watertown-Elysian-Morristown. Kick-starting practice Monday, it’s something players still remember.
“I think the whole team cried,” said Disterhaupt about the 27-0 shutout loss against a Warriors squad he said was the best team he has ever seen. “They were clearly better than us. We all knew we still had a ways to go.”
“The locker room was the quietest I’ve ever heard it,” added Moose Lake senior Jake Christopherson. “It was a difficult, sad time for all of us.”
Those results only made the Rebels work harder this offseason. Christopherson, a 6-foot-1, 250-pound lineman, said captains’ practices – originally set for this fall – began in the spring. He noted the weight room was open every day, and players made a good showing throughout this summer, too.
“We knew that everything that happened last year had nothing to do with this year, so quite a few of us guys were in there working,” Christopherson said after the second two-a-day practice this week. “Since we packed up from the Dome, we’ve been waiting for the first day. Everybody who plays here loves football. It’s great to be back.”
“The kids have been ready for this since school got out last spring,” added 14th-year Rebels Coach Dave Louzek. “The first couple days have been really good here. The kids are doing a good job of staying focused.”
That’s because in the pair of small communities, expectations are always high. A year ago, Disterhaupt was the Duluth News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year, scoring an area-best 40 touchdowns and rushing for 2,552 yards.
Quarterback Tony Adamczak is also back, plus five of their seven linemen, according to Louzek.
With winning streaks and numbers piling up yearly, Christopherson – a captain along with Disterhaupt – tunes out what is being said around town.
“People are definitely talking,” Christopherson said. “I try not to listen because when you start thinking you’re a good team, you get beaten.”
Louzek has installed that focus in all of his players. Explaining they will again be a run-heavy offense like always behind Disterhaupt, Louzek noted it’s his veteran linemen who will control the trenches, and the success. To win the Class AA state title this year, he said, the right mindset is vital.
“Just showing up doesn’t win you a state championship, it takes work,” said Louzek of a ML-WR program that has been to eight state tournaments over their history. “And the kids know they can’t look past anyone.”
“All of our streaks and numbers don’t mean anything,” Disterhaupt added. “Yeah, they are nice records at the end of the season, but we want to be the first team of ours to win state. That’s the record we’re going for.”
Traveling to Barnum for their season opener Aug. 31, the Little Brown Jug rivalry will be back.
The Rebels’ home games will be in Willow River, not far from the playground where Disterhaupt watches all of his biggest fans.
Expect him to score a lot this fall. And watch for the many high-fives after.
“All of the little kids like to be a part of it,” Disterhaupt said. “We have to set good examples. It is the time of year for the community. It is for a lot of us.”