The history of Northwestern High School football wasn’t always steeped in glory, but in 1972, with coach Bill Pelkey leading the way, the Tigers had their first undefeated regular season before state playoffs existed.
Pelkey guided the Tigers to their only state championship in 1988, a Division 3 title that capped off a dominating year.
“They kind of whooped everybody back then,” Colin Trautt said.
Trautt, a senior running back and safety on this year’s Northwestern team, has heard all about it. That’s because his father, Eric Trautt, was a running back for the Tigers in ’88, transferring from South Shore to Northwestern that year with the goal of a state championship in mind.
Now the younger Trautt would like to do the same thing. That journey starts Friday, Sept. 25 with the season opener in Chetek.
“Winning a state title is always the ultimate goal, but maybe a little more for me than for anybody. I’ve got a little added motivation,” Trautt said.
Trautt is coming off a season in which he led the Tigers with 143 carries for 1,067 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also caught 13 passes for 234 yards and three more scores.
After putting up those kinds of numbers, Trautt was asked what his goal was this year, but he is team-first all the way.
“Individually, I’m not concerned with records, but a state championship, that’s it, and the team goal would be the same thing,” he said.
Northwestern assistant coach Andy Lind also coached that ’88 team and likes to draw parallels between father and son.
“Oh yeah,” Colin Trautt said, laughing. “He gives you all of it.”
While winning a state title would be a dream come true for the Tigers, with the country still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it will be interesting to see if they even get the chance after going 11-1 and advancing to the state quarterfinals last year.
“We’re hoping,” Trautt said.
The biggest question will be at quarterback, where Northwestern graduated Jake Brill, who was 51-for-98 passing for 1,101 yards, with 16 touchdowns to just two interceptions.
Coach Jovin Kroll has a COVID-ready QB plan in place with senior Braden Trautt, Colin’s first cousin, and sophomore Luke Sedin splitting time under center.
“Braden, being a senior, is definitely more polished, having played the position longer, while Luke has a really high ceiling,” Kroll said. “He’s a strong-armed baseball player like Jake was, with a heckuva lot of potential.”
Among the standouts on defense are defensive lineman Adam Thompson and outside linebackers Titus Graden and Brennen Werner.
“They’re very ready,” Kroll said. “I think there is some anxiousness there, seeing everything going on around them, with various schools still having issues with COVID. They just want to get there and have the opportunity, that’s the big thing. Our kids are doing everything they can to make sure they can play. They’ve been masking up.”
Kroll said that the Heart O’ North Conference represents six counties. With much of the protocols in Wisconsin being handled at the county level, everything is going to vary by school.
Friday the team will probably meet up in the gym, rather than a tight locker room. Afterward, they'll head home.
“I think they’re fine not showering and just stinking up the parents’ car on the ride home,” Kroll said, laughing. “That’s the preferred way of the kids these days, anyway. We’ll see.”
Northwestern is scheduled for seven conference games, with playoffs still to be determined.
Kroll said he has about a half-dozen players interested in playing college football, including Colin Trautt, who has received interest from Bemidji State.
Colin and his brother, sophomore Kellen Trautt, are the two Northwestern athletes who play hockey as part of a co-op with Ashland.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Colin Trautt can bench press 320 pounds, squat lift 430 and deadlift 450, easily making the 1,000-pound club. It also makes him one strong hockey forward and quite the football player.
“Colin is fast, aggressive, 1,000-pound club in the weight room, so he’s the real deal,” Kroll said. “This fall is huge for a lot of these guys, because a lot of these kids didn’t get a lot of notice last year as juniors. They need film, they really need the film, because they missed out on all those summer camps where they get noticed and get offers. That didn’t happen.”
After everything that has happened since officials shut down sports in March, the Tigers will certainly take whatever football they can get.
“When the state shut down and everything, we were all worried about it, but I think people are really excited to see us have a season at all,” Colin Trautt said.
While that’s become cliche this fall, he is certainly clear on where his heart is at. He wants to win a state title, just like dad.
The younger Trautt was asked if a regular season would do.
“Not exactly, but if that’s what it comes down to, with COVID and everything else, then that’s what it comes down to,” Colin Trautt said. “If it has to come down to that, where it is just a conference championship, or whatever it may be, then it is what it is. There’s not much I can do about it, but obviously the end goal is state.”
Tigers at a glance
Head coach: Jovin Kroll
Assistant coaches: Cody Fechtelkotter, Peter Lawton, Josh Anttila, Nick Olson, Brian Smith, Andy Lind, Shane Sedin
Offense: Colin Trautt, tailback; Brennen Werner, fullback; Adam Thompson, Guard; Ben Benes, guard.
Defense: Adam Thompson, defensive line; Trent Orlowski, defensive line; Titus Graden, outside linebacker; Brennen Werner, middle linebacker; Harrison Nelson, corner; Colin Trautt, safety.
Newcomers to watch: Greg Ohman, fullback and middle linebacker; Jace Nelson, receiver; Cam Benesch and Austin Schlies, running backs; Dawson Kriske, kicker; Braden Trautt and Luke Sedin, quarterback; Dylan Anderson, offensive tackle; Shane Schiff, defensive line.
Strengths: "We return a lot of experience along both lines and in the offensive backfield," Kroll said. "This team is very big and strong, with a great deal of speed as well. The players are well versed in the offensive and defensive systems, so the limited practice schedule leading into the season will not affect them as much as it could."
Biggest Challenge: "The biggest challenge will be dealing with the adversity this season may bring; nothing is for certain and schedules could change in a moment's notice," he said. "The biggest goal for the coaching staff will be creating enough depth and experience at key positions in case the team does find itself in a position where specific players are out for a period of time due to some type of exposure.
"Ultimately, this team will need to realize in short order that due to the success of prior years, every opponent will give them their best shot; nothing will be easy," Kroll said.
Assessment of the Team: "This team is built for late season success, with strong, powerful backs and linemen," Kroll said. "While the status of any type of postseason remains a mystery right now, this team should be playing its best football come late October and November, and will push to improve each week; the toughest opponents now lie in the early-mid half of the the team's schedule due to the postponement of the start of the season, so the team will need to figure things out sooner than later if they want to win a third straight conference title."