Tonight, Ron Frank and the Sevastopol Pioneers make their first step ever into the WIAA State Football Playoffs, taking on Coleman at Coleman. It has been a long road for the Pioneers, but especially for coach Frank, now in his 14th season as head football coach.
Frank began his coaching career way back when Sevastopol was part of a combined program with Gibraltar in the early 1990s. He landed smack in the middle of what would grow into a 10-year, 75-game Packerland Conference losing streak, one that only seemed longer because 51 – 0 blowouts still only count once in the loss column. (I can make fun of the streak, I was part of it, having played football for old S/G from 1994 – 1997).
On the eve of his first game as a playoff football head coach, I spoke with my old, persevering coach.
Q: What felt better, getting the win to break the losing streak back in 1996, or getting into the playoffs?
A: The streak, definitely. That was just so huge at the time.
Q: What makes the players you have now winners, what got them over the hump?
A: Well, football is and always has been a senior-dominated sport, and we have 18 seniors, giving us a lot of leadership. Last year it was flipped for Gibraltar, when they had something like 14 seniors. That’s the biggest thing.
Q: What’s the defining trait of this team?
A: Character. We started 0 – 2, then 1 – 3, and we were behind in a couple games late, but these guys came through.
Q: You’ve been through a lot of tough years working for programs that aren’t exactly plum jobs. Did you have times when you thought, ‘man, why am I still doing this?’ It’s got to be tough.
A: Not if you love it. I love football, love the kids. If not varsity, I’d do elementary. Football has been part of me since 1977. Maybe I’ll ask myself that when I’m 65, but not now.
Q: Was there a particular point when you thought, ‘hey, we might have something special with these guys, we might have a chance to do something here.”
A: Last year, going into week 8, we needed to win our last two to make it into the playoffs. We didn’t, but we gave ourselves a chance and had a lot of seniors coming back. This year, we lost our first two games, but when we went up against Manitowoc Roncolli we were down 14 – 6 in the third quarter. Now we lost that one, but we were with them in the third and I think something clicked, and we haven’t lost since.
Q: What do you know about Coleman, your opponent Tuesday?
A: They’re tough, but they might be tougher next year. They have 17 juniors. They run it right at you, they’ve only thrown the ball 24 times all year. But they haven’t been tested, I think their average score is something like 46 – 6. We’re battle-tested, we’ve been in several tight games.
Q: Last question. Do you still lace ‘em up and hop under center to scrimmage with the players (Frank used to run the scout team as quarterback, sans pads and helmet. He was lighening-quick, but his legs were certainly better than his arm.).
A: Not anymore. I’ve had a couple knee surgeries. Maybe I’ll get in there and take a 2-step drop and throw, but I don’t have a 3-step drop in me anymore.