WILLOW RIVER — Moose Lake/Willow River topped Braham 49-0 at home Friday, Oct. 8, but the story of the night wasn’t senior Logan Orvedahl’s two touchdowns or the Rebels’ stifling defense.

Even though the defense hasn’t allowed a point since the Rebels’ season-opening win over Hermantown Sept. 3, the story was coach Dave Louzek picking up his 200th career victory as the ML/WR coach. “Coach Louz” — as he is known by coaches and fans — has coached the Rebels since 1999 and has led the program on an unprecedented run of success. In that time, ML/WR has just two losing seasons, one in Louzek’s first year and another in 2015, and the team has averaged nearly nine wins per season.

Louzek has led the team to 14 section championships, including 13 Section 7AA titles in 14 years between 2006 and 2019 and three appearances in the state Class AA title game.

Assistant coach Kevin Szczyrbak said when he first watched ML/WR play football in 1991 — when the team went 0-8 — there was “no way” he would want his kids to play in the program.

“The kids didn’t seem to want to play football and they weren’t having fun — it was more of a chore than anything,” Szczyrbak said. “Then I went to a game in ‘99 when Louz took over and I saw a difference in what was happening. They were doing things right, the kids seemed to be having fun. They were taking the right angles on defense...They were supporting each other — it was a total 180 from what I had seen previously.”

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Louzek said he wasn’t sure he was ready to be a head coach after four years as an assistant, but he wanted to immediately put his own stamp on the program. Football is a physical sport, Louzek said, and he wanted to add something to allow the kids to relax and get to know each other away from football.

“It just gets to be a real grind on the kids and a grind on the coaches,” he said. “The main thing I wanted to do coming in was to find ways that would make things as fun as possible. We put in the work and the conditioning and all the physical contact, but then I wanted to throw in things that had nothing to do with football, just more team building, fun activities.”

The first two weeks of football practice are typically a hot and humid period for coaches and players, Louzek said. When he started coaching, the team started taking off early on the final Friday of practice to play golf at Birch Creek Golf Course in Sturgeon Lake.

“I had kids that were golfing in cowboy boots,” Louzek said. “It was just one of those fun things that they haven’t done before as a team to get away from the football field and experience some fun hanging out together as friends and teammates.”

Orvedahl said while some coaches are loud or get angry in practice, Louzek leads by example and takes seriously his motto for the team: “Work hard, have fun and expect to win.”

Moose Lake/Willow River senior captain Logan Orvedahl and coach Dave Louzek listen to a halftime speech during the Rebels win over Braham Friday, Oct. 8. 
Jamey Malcomb / Duluth News Tribune
Moose Lake/Willow River senior captain Logan Orvedahl and coach Dave Louzek listen to a halftime speech during the Rebels win over Braham Friday, Oct. 8. Jamey Malcomb / Duluth News Tribune

“People yelling in your face, that will get you playing or whatever, but there’s a feeling of playing for someone you truly enjoy being around every day and he truly enjoys being around us,” Orvedahl said. “It creates an atmosphere that everyone wants to get better, everyone wants to see Louz succeed and he wants to see all of us personally succeed.”

Louzek has a number of different ways he motivates his team. For example, over the last 23 years he’s participated in conditioning drills with the team.

“If I’m going to ask these kids to work hard for me, I want them to see that I’m willing to do some of that work with that,” he said. “If they’ve got sore muscles, they’re breathing hard and sweating, they see me doing the same thing.”

‘Part of the team’

Louzek has also made a point of making sure that anyone that has an interest in ML/WR football has a place in the program. It started with assistant coach James Bohaty.

Bohaty has Down syndrome and was working as a manager for the team when Louzek started as head coach.

“When I became head coach, the first thing I did was make him one of my assistants,” Louzek said. “He’s been my right hand man for the last 23 years. He works with the kids in the weight room, on the field and is a coach just like the rest of us.”

That attitude extends to players with special circumstances, too. Danny Lilya, a ML/WR graduate who is paralyzed from the waist down, wanted to find a role on the team. Lilya said he and a friend came up with the idea to be a holder on field goal and extra point attempts.

Moose Lake/Willow River's Danny Lilya holds for kicker Nick Wegge on extra points for the Rebels during the 2016 season.
2016 File / Duluth News Tribune
Moose Lake/Willow River's Danny Lilya holds for kicker Nick Wegge on extra points for the Rebels during the 2016 season. 2016 File / Duluth News Tribune

Louzek loved the idea.

“He’s always been a super-inclusive guy, whether it’s freshmen on the team, me or coaches with special needs as well,” Lilya said. “He’s always loved to get everyone involved everywhere they possibly can be.”

Over the past two decades, Louzek has made a point of trying to ensure the ML/WR program is open to anyone who wants to participate.

“That’s part of our program, everybody finds their role on the team and you do the best you can in that role,” Louzek said. “For anybody who has ever wanted to be a part of Rebel football, we’ve found somewhere where they can be a part of the team and be successful.”

After 23 years and 200 wins, Louzek, 51, said he doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon.

“There’s so many other things going on, paperwork, teaching and things to keep track of,” Louzek said. “When I’m on the field with the kids, that’s the best part of my day by far and as long as that’s the case, I’m going to keep coaching.”

ML/WR (5-0) will next host Hinckley-Finlayson at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14.

Braham 0-0-0-0—0

ML/WR 21-21-7-0—0

MLWR — Logan Orvedahl 26 run (Sam Kenezevich kick)

MLWR — Orvedahl 10 run (Kenezevich kick)

MLWR — Kaden Robbins 23 pass from Adam Neumann (Kenezevich kick)

MLWR — Landin Kurhajetz 55 punt return (Kenezevich kick)

MLWR — Henry Ribich 56 run (Kenezevich kick)

MLWR — Jackson Thompson 85 run (Kenezevich kick)

MLWR — Thompson 29 run (Kenezevich kick)