DECORAH - At a time in football when everyone and their father is running spread offenses, Luther College has gone throwback. Fitting for its 100th year of college football.
It’s because of the new head coach’s father. And stepfather, and brother …
“I ran the option in high school,” said Aaron Hafner. “I graduated from Pittsburg State, my little brother, Todd, played there for (Minnesota Coach) Jerry Kill, who ran it. I just grew up with that, in that culture. My dad coached it, my stepdad coached it.”
Now he’s coaching it to a bunch of guys to whom it’s completely foreign. Though the Norse have proven to be quick learners.
Luther lost its season opener two weeks ago by a point to Presentation College of South Dakota. Last week, it edged St. Olaf, 20-13, to end a 20-game losing streak.
There is still a lot of work to do to get this proud program back to where it used to be in the Iowa Conference. For instance, the roster size is in the 60s, more than 40 less than the top IIAC programs.
But at least the biggest obstacle has been overcome: winning a game.
“The biggest thing was getting that win under our belt,” Hafner said. “It was definitely a relief for the kids. It was great to see smiles on their faces after a game.”
Hafner replaced Mike Durnin, now an assistant at Dubuque, last winter and set forth implementing his flexbone offense. Without the time to recruit a true option quarterback, he moved defensive back J.J. Sirios behind center because he was one in high school.
Sirios is Luther’s second-leading rusher early, behind Josh Vos (252 yards, four touchdowns). The Norse have 634 rushing yards in two games, as opposed to just 59 passing.
That’s exactly what Hafner wants.
“The biggest thing for us immediately was trying to set the culture here the way the coaching staff wants it,” Hafner said. “Get the kids to buy into our system, and they have.
“We have very, very physical practices, and I think that has translated into games.”
Hafner came to Luther after a seven-year stint as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at William Penn. The Statesmen broke the single-season NAIA rushing record in 2010 under his guidance.
A Kansas native, he was a prep coach before going to William Penn, including winning a Missouri Class 4A state championship in 2000.
“We’d played up here at William Penn, so I’d been to the campus before,” Hafner said. “Decorah is just a very nice place. My wife and I are both small-town people. This is someplace we wanted to raise our kids.”
And raise a football program. Luther plays at Wheaton on Saturday, then begins its conference schedule the following week at home against Loras.
“If we can continue to improve and stay healthy, because depth is a concern, and learn the little things about our offense as we go, definiteoly we can be very competitive come Saturday afternoons,” Hafner said.
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