By Susan Harman
Your Prep Sports
NORTH LIBERTY – Jeff Gordon keeps saying, ‘Pinch me,’ because he can’t believe the opportunity he’s been given.
He is the first head football coach in Liberty High history.
Doesn’t matter to Gordon that it’s a freshman team for a school that won’t even exist for another year. Doesn’t matter that his guys gather at a junior high for preseason workouts or that they’ll practice at West High once school starts.
“He’s committed to this whole organization,” freshman lineman Sam Nicklaus said.
Indeed, Gordon is fired up.
“I preach to the kids to be excited about life, to get up and get to work,” Gordon said. “And enjoy what you’re doing; whether it’s digging a ditch or building a tower we want to do it the best we can.
“We tell the guys every day that there are no limits. We look to the sky on everything we do. It can be as big and as tall and as far out as we want it to be. In order to do that we’ve just got to dig deep and build a good foundation. If things go as planned we can coach these guys for four years and develop a mindset of believe in doing your best and never giving up.”
He’s a North Liberty guy, a lifer, who played at West and in college before coaching in high school. Ben HouselogMost recently he was on the staff at Cedar Rapids Prairie, where he teaches. His assistant, Kris Thorson, was the offensive coordinator for Reese Morgan at West when Gordon and best friend and current volunteer assistant Clint Feuerbach played there.
Sam NicklausJeff Gordon, Clint Feuerbach, Kris ThorsonMost of Gordon’s upbeat philosophy comes directly from what he learned from Thorson.
After summer conditioning about 23 players are out for the team.
Ben Houselog, a wide receiver/cornerback and one of original Bolts, said he and his teammates found out about the new team last May, and they are all in.
“We were all really excited for it, a chance to build something new from the ground up,” he said. “We hold our heads high and take a lot of responsibility for it. We don’t mess around and want to set an example of how to be a Bolt: excellence in sports, in the classroom, off the field. We work hard; we’re really excited.”
Nicklaus overcame some initial hesitation with a little nudge from Houselog’s father.
“I decided to go to one practice. Then I kept going; it was really fun,” Nicklaus said.
He and his teammates have embraced their coaches’ hopes that they see this opportunity as a beacon for a community that has too often been portrayed as a soulless suburb.
“I want to make our presence felt in the community,” Nicklaus said. “We have worked too hard not to be (competitive with) West or other established football teams like City. This year we want to get ourselves noticed and hopefully compete with the rest of the teams.”
Gordon understands it’s not going to be easy to build a successful football program. But he sees it as important not just to the school but to the town’s identity.
“What we do with being first at the school in terms of setting the bar and setting the culture, that can be bigger than the team, that can be bigger than a school,” he said. “That can be a community. They can set the tone.
“From what we did on June 1 we weren’t sure they were going to come back until five minutes into it when we saw what quality kids they were. That comes from home, that comes teachers and coaches before. So we’re extremely fortunate to have this group of young men to build a legacy.”
By Susan Harman