Friends and coaches Zortman and Keel succeed, support one another

Messwood and Homestead seek titles

Oct. 1, 2013

Friends support one another.

So when Homestead football coach Dave Keel's Highlanders were earning themselves sole possession of first place in the North Shore Conference with a not-as-close as it looked 35-31 decision over host Cedarburg on Friday, there was a familiar face on the sidelines.

"It was nice to take a Friday night off and bring my beautiful children to a football game that wasn't my own," Shorewood/Messmer football coach Drake Zortman said.

Zortman had spent some years on the Homestead staff about a decade ago before taking over the Greyhounds three seasons ago.

The next day, when Zortman's Messwood team was turning in arguably the biggest win of his three-year tenure and maybe the biggest win in more than 30 years when it overpowered Midwest Classic Conference rival Lake Country Lutheran, 21-12, there was Keel, along with his defensive coordinator, Fritz Rauch, cheering louder than almost anyone else out there.

"I sure had a good time out there," Keel said. "It was very enjoyable to watch that and I enjoyed that victory a great deal. Maybe not as much as a Shorewood fan, but now here he (Zortman) has them in the state playoffs again (now for three years running) and he has them chasing a conference title, too."

"It's good stuff."

Zortman took notice.

"My mentor (Keel) was on the sideline, so I knew it had to be an important game," he chuckled.

Rebuilding the program

Zortman was flattered by Keel's appearance as he has modeled a lot of the organizational aspects of his program on what the highly successful Highlanders (four WIAA state titles since 1999) have done. That concept has paid off, as the Greyhounds, who were models of futility for decades after their last state playoff berth in 1981, have staged a revolution since Zortman's arrival.

They have compiled a 15-9 record in Zortman's last three years as compared to 7-20 the three seasons prior to that (including a combined 1-17 in 2009 and 2010).

However, Zortman is far from satisfied. He and everyone surrounding the Messwood program knows how important that victory over LCL was. With a favorable schedule in the final three regular season games, the Greyhounds control their own destiny as far as claiming an elusive conference title.

"We still have a lot of work to do," said Zortman, whose team hosts Kenosha Christian in what will be Shorewood's homecoming game on Friday. "We look at the banners (in both schools) and the last conference title in football at Messmer was 1947 and the last one at Shorewood was in 1981.

"We know what's at stake."

Just like they did going into the Lutheran game.

"It was our best week of practice all season," Zortman said. "The defensive staff was right on it, because they (the Lightning) run a spread with multiple formations. Very hard to defend.

"I really credit our seniors for their leadership. This is not Drake Zortman's team, it's theirs. They're really maturing. By the end of the week, I was just standing back and smiling, watching as the drills were run right and saying to myself 'They finally get it.'"

Leadership councils work

That sense of ownership is another Homestead tendency as the Highlanders have been running team leadership councils for many years now.

Then the two coaches, the old master and the still young program-builder, took turns at doing a Chip and Dale "No, after you" routine.

It all stems from a fourth-and-one play that the Greyhounds ran from the Lutheran 24 in the fourth quarter while nursing a 13-12 lead. They spread everybody wide, including star tight end Jonathan Carson and then had back Riley Sellinger go hard up the middle where he broke it and ran straight to the end zone for the decisive touchdown.

"I think I got a little wink and a smile from Dave on that one," Zortman said afterward, "because that's something that he would do."

But Keel was taking none of the credit.

"No, he (Zortman) actually taught me that one," Keel said. "He's always been a good student of the game. That time it was him teaching the old dog new tricks (laughs)."

Laughs aside, both coaches will continue to learn and maintain focus as they look to lead their respective teams to league titles. They'll do that, however, while making sure they have a corner of one eye on the sports page just to see how the other is doing.

"He's handled that job very well," Keel said of Zortman. "He's a good motivator and gets the kids in the right positions. He has them believing and that's what it takes."

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