Brainerd Warriors football is a tradition players benefit from, fans draw pride from and opponents fear.
But with tradition comes responsibility.
The most important being preservation. Like most jobs, this one lands on the shoulders of Warriors head coach Ron Stolski.
The state’s all-time wins leader has enjoyed three new avenues in keeping the Warrior Way alive this year in volunteer coaches John Stumpf, John Haberman and Mike Huesmann. All are former Warrior football players, who played college football and returned to the area.
While in different phases of their lives, the three share a common passion for football and an understanding of tradition.
Haberman graduated from St. Olaf with political science and religious study degrees. After interning with a law firm and the U.S. State Department, Haberman still isn’t sure what he wants to do. After a marathon breakfast with Stolski this summer Haberman’s future maybe in coaching.
“Being able to sit in the coaches’ office after practice or before games and seeing not only how (Stolski) carries himself, but how he coaches the coaching staff, it’s hard to describe,” said Haberman, a 2006 Brainerd graduate, who played quarterback at St. Olaf. “He is always one step ahead of everything, whether it’s with what he says to the team or what his aims are. I’m just so impressed by how he conducts himself. He’s quite the guy.”
The three volunteered during the Warriors’ summer football camps. The coaching bug hit hard and they asked to continue this fall. No positions were open so all three volunteered.
“I’m used to the long hours,” said Stumpf a 2004 Brainerd graduate, who played fullback at Concordia College in Moorhead and graduated with an accounting degree.
He said this was the first year time permitted him to return to football.
“I had always wanted to coach, but I was never able to,” he said. “I coached the summer camps and I loved it. I wanted to do more of it. They weren’t able to get me on the varsity so I helped with the ninth grade and also did some work with the varsity and junior varsity games.”
Stumpf helped Mike Boran coach the freshmen offensive line and worked with Chet Stevenson with the varsity offensive line. He said coaching was hard, calling it a psychological game to get kids to perform, but seeing the end result was rewarding.
Huesmann had a coaching background before volunteering. After graduating from Gustavus Adolphus in 2007 with a history major, he went to Northwestern State in Louisiana to earn his masters degree. He was a graduate assistant coach at Northwestern State and is hoping to land a teaching position at a Division III school this winter. Until then he’s padding his resume.
The former Warrior receiver is coaching defensive backs with coaches Jason Freed and Joe Pohlkamp. He also prepares the defensive scout team, which provides Brainerd’s offense with the look of the upcoming opponent.
“I’ve picked up a lot from coach Freed and Pohlkamp as well as coach (Scott) Parsons,” said Huesmann. “With coach Stolski it is a lot more in depth with things, like how to make a successful program, how to react to certain situations or how to treat your players and people in the community.”
Huesmann said the biggest surprise was how laid back the coaching staff is when they aren’t around the players.
“When I was at Northwestern State it was almost a chore being around those guys,” said Huesmann. “I look forward to going into practice every day. It’s a fun-loving bunch of guys.”
Stumpf’s biggest surprise is the man behind the coaching myth.
“I think when you see (Stolski’s) game planning and the extent of his strategy on attacking teams it’s amazing,” he said. “I don’t think people realize how cerebral he is. Everything he does there is a plan for. His strength is planning.”
This isn’t a one-way street, however. There are benefits to having young coaches on staff. Especially coaches who have been through the same situations current players are facing. Haberman called himself a middle ground between the top coaches and players.
“I think I help to get the coaches’ message across because it is different coming from a guy who is only four or five years removed from where these players are now,” said Haberman, who helps Jeff Ramey coach the quarterbacks.
Unlike Huesmann and Stumpf, Haberman still has difficulty on Friday night or Saturday afternoons. Only a year removed from leading St. Olaf on the field, Haberman said: “Sitting in the coaches’ office before the game and listening to Stolski talk to the players, I still get goosebumps.”