Tom Idstrom was roaming the Champlin Park sideline in 1998 when the Rebels beat the Brainerd Warriors in the quarterfinals of the Class 5A state football playoffs.
Fast forward to 2004 and Idstrom will be on the Warriors' sideline Friday when Brainerd hosts the Rebels once again in the 5A quarterfinals.
"They're like any other opponent now," said Idstrom. "Once you take a job somewhere else your loyalties and allegiances are to the program you're at.
"I know the Champlin Park staff. I know pretty much what they run. They run a lot of the same stuff, but that only helps you if you can stop it. You don't know when it's coming."
Brainerd Warriors defensive coordinator Tom Idstrom coached at Champlin Park in 1998 when the teams last met. Idstrom's Warrior defense is allowing 161.9 yards, 7.0 points and has shut out four opponents this fall. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood
Idstrom, the Warriors' defensive coordinator, and his wife, Karen, moved to Little Falls in 2002 to be closer to their daughter and grandchildren.
The 65-year-old is a colorful character, one who loves to spin a tale and share sayings with the players. On the exterior, he could pass for a Marine Corps drill instructor. In reality, he's an intelligent, gracious individual who's knowledgeable on a variety of topics.
"Beneath that character persona is an incredibly bright football technician," Warriors head coach Ron Stolski said, "and an absolutely committed coach.
"Nobody works harder than Tom Idstrom, in season or out. The two of us traveled to eight football clinics in the last year and he went to some more that I didn't.
"I knew him from a distance before we got together, and have earned a deep appreciation for his commitment."
Current Champlin Park head coach Mike Korton was an assistant with Idstrom in 1998. He echoed Stolski's sentiments.
"Tom's a good friend of mine," Korton said. "He's a colorful guy. You will never find a guy who works harder. He flat out will give everything for football."
Occupation: Brainerd Warriors defensive coordinator
Coaching stops: Brainerd (3 years), Champlin Park (6), Irondale (13), University of St. Thomas (2), Anoka (11), Coon Rapids (3), Gustavus Adolphus (1), Luverne (3).
Idstrom is in his 42nd year of coaching. In addition to Brainerd and Champlin Park, he has coached at four other high schools and two colleges.
This season, he is coaching one of the state's top defenses, one that allows 161.9 yards, 7.0 points and has shut out four opponents.
"I'm not bragging but we've got awful good personnel," Idstrom said. "We run as well as any defense in the state. Our kids have a lot of confidence in themselves. They're not afraid of Blaine or Eden Prairie. They're not awed by anyone."
Idstrom said this Brainerd defense compares favorably with any he has coached. He said overall team speed may separate the Warriors from the other defenses he has coached.
"We've also got 3.5 students or better so we're able do some things that you're not able to do with other groups of kids," he said. "As a result, we don't often get caught out of position. They understand what we're trying to do."
What the Warriors must do to beat Champlin Park is contain quarterback Dan Skelly. The senior has passed for 1,032 yards and eight touchdowns and has 1,567 total yards.
"We haven't faced someone that has a two-pronged attack," Idstrom said. "That's going to be a major undertaking, control the passing game and still shut down the run."
If any team can do it, it may be Idstrom and the Warriors.
Mike Bialka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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