Central football coach Joe Koehn brings new approach to game

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Members of the Central football team include (front, left to right) Sabastian Florek, Lane Orr, Noah Diersen, Nick Deitchler, Evan Pensel, Evan Schroeder; (second row) Jasmine Grau, Mark Hertrampf, Joel Thiese, Riley Keene, James Eberhardt, Brandon Whittle, William Moser; (third row) Sam Fettkether, Spencer Heer, Ryan Schroeder, Tate Berns, C.J. Polkinghorn, Elliot Kelly; (fourth row) Ashton Burroughs, Hazen Loan, Nate Shirbroun, Sean Wilwert; (back) coaches Blake Rodenberg, Joe Koehn, Colten Ledbeter and Isaiah Hopp. (Photo courtesy of Blaker Photography)

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

It was a trip back to Central to attend a football practice while a attending college that ignited the coaching passion in Joe Koehn. Now, six years later, he has emerged as the head coach, injecting new life, as well as more fun, into the program. 

Koehn was inspired by a bevy of former coaches from high school to college, all role models who imprinted elements of trust and respect for those who have come before and how they have helped by way of accomplishments. But above all, they left a “very positive impact” on Koehn, which translates into his coaching philosophy. 

It’s a philosophy that can be summarized by the aforementioned words, trust and respect for the game and each other, as well as “how to fight through adversity,” which is quite apropos, given the new COVID-19 world.

It’s also about fun, because as Koehn put it, “If the kids aren’t having any fun, they won’t want to be there.” 

This is instilled in practice, as is motivating the team by building a solid foundation of trust between coach and player, because if players trust and believe the coach will make them better, they “will build their own excitement [and] start recruiting kids to build the program,” he said. 

This is at the core of Koehn’s motivational process, but it’s aided by his ability to teach and connect with the players and by watching their progression and on-field success. In fact, witnessing that success come from something they learned from Koehn is his favorite thing about coaching. 

“When I teach an athlete something and they go out and have success on the field with it, there is nothing better than that,” he said. 

But it’s not all touchdowns, celebrations and “eating Ws,” to steal a phrase from NFL quarterback Jameis Winston. There are some struggles, unrelated to the pandemic. Among them, according to Koehn, is keeping the kids focused. 

“There is so much going on in high school kids’ lives, and trying to keep them focused for two hours can be a struggle,” he said. Throw in the added uncertainty of “not knowing what the future holds,” and the additional restrictions, such as masks in the weight room, spraying down pads more frequently and a two-minute timeout every four minutes of game play, drastically slowing the action, and you’ve got a recipe for mass distraction or mass exodus. 

However, Koehn stated neither has been an issue. 

“The students have been great. They just kept coming to practice, working hard…and staying focused, which as a coach, is exactly what you want to see,” Koehn said. 

There is an optimism there, and why not? As Koehn has stuck to his coaching philosophies, the team has continued to train hard and push themselves and teammates to become better football players. Under his tutelage, and having the players do a lot of team building activities during camp in preparation for their first game Aug. 28 at home against Kee High, “they pulled together as a team and really learned to work together throughout all of this,” Koehn said. 

But it’s not just COVID-19 that could be a source of adversity. It’s also the final score and overall record. Koehn is taking over a program that has endured a few rough seasons recently and went winless last season. They were also out-scored by opponents by 456 points on the season, and their closest loss was by 25 points. 

Nevertheless, Koehn is confident in the philosophy that leads through adversity. “I expect us to have success,” he said flatly. This expectation is premised on continued player growth and the belief that upperclassmen are “ready to lead this team to a new level.” 

It also helps that the team has gained players. Koehn believes this will benefit the team long-term, because it means players will get more breaks during practice and in games, mitigating fatigue and keeping them fresh for the entire game. 

Then there is the addition of other new coaches to the staff, Colten Ledbeter, Isaiah Hopp and Blake Rodenberg, all of whom are eager to teach the players, energize the team and utilize the player speed that has Koehn excited about the prospects of success for the season. 

Leading the team to that success is important to Koehn because, as a leader, it’s about giving back through teaching football skills, imparting life lessons, preaching toughness through the pain of losing and instilling humility in the glory of victory. It’s also about giving back to the “very supportive community” that has embraced the players, coaches and program during a difficult period in time. 

Koehn knows it’s not all about the scoreboard for communities. 

Deep down, it’s well understood, at least for him, that sports “bring families together. They allow for kids to grow up and learn how to socially interact. Sports teach a certain sense of responsibility…and they can act as an escape,” he said. “Everybody needs a little time away from the world every once in a while.” 

As Koehn takes over the program under a unique set of circumstances, while trying to institute a changed philosophy and a new culture of leadership, he isn’t looking to just win, but to also lead young men. It reminds him of a quote from a Christmas gift he received, which has become a motto to live by: “Winners get to the top and then look back at all that they have accomplished. Leaders get to the top and help others do the same.”

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