By Jordan Huether
The Hay Springs Hawks football team has a new leader this year in the form of head coach Jason Funk. Funk is no stranger to the Hawks, having served as an assistant coach in the past. He was also the head coach at Red Cloud, Nebraska for three years, who converted to eight man during his time there.
Funk grew up playing eight man football for Hyannis, then went on to be a three-year starter on defense for the Chadron State Eagles. He finished with 241 tackles and 21 pass breakups. He was a first-team choice on the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and Nebraska NCAA Division II teams that were selected in 1993 when he was a senior. He was also a two-time RMAC academic honoree. Last October, Funk was inducted into the Eagles’ Athletic Hall of Fame.
Jason currently lives with his family in Rushville, where he runs his own practice, Funk Family Chiropractic.
Funk will have a few hurdles to overcome from the start this season. Although school starts early for the Hawks this year (the first day of classes is Wednesday, August 7) the team can’t start practicing until the 12th, meaning no two-a-day practices for conditioning. Also, because of the four day school week, practices will only be able to run from about 4:15 to 6 p.m. On top of that, all home games have been scheduled for Thursday nights this year, meaning the Hawks will only have two full pad practices on weeks with a home game, with a light pre-game practice on Wednesdays. “That takes one day of practice a week out,” Funk stated. “That is huge!”
“We have about two and a half weeks of practice before our first game, which is not a lot of time to get ready. That’s why I’m not going to implement a full new offense from day one. We’re going to implement it in stages. The offense we ran the last few years has been great. I’m just going to put my twist on things,” said Funk. “There’s a particular offense I really want to implement, because I don’t think anyone in the panhandle executes it well, and most defenses aren’t going to see it. We have to utilize our strengths against a defense’s weaknesses. In small town Nebraska you utilize the talent you have.”
Luckily for Funk, the Hawks twenty-man roster is teeming with talent this year, returning six of last year’s eight starters. “Stevin [Horrocks] is an amazing player. I’ve never coached anybody in all my years of coaching that has been blessed with the physical talent and ability that he has,” said Funk. “He’s 6’1” and he told me the other day he’s 235 pounds, and he can run. If he can get it all together, it’s going to be scary. We saw a little bit of that last year, especially in our last game against Potter, where he just came alive and played up to his full potential. He tore them up and they couldn’t stop him. We need to duplicate that. I definitely want to showcase his talent, because he’s not only big and strong, he’s fast. I’d put him up against anyone in the panhandle, I really would. He’s that good of an athlete.”
Another back to look for big things from this season is Jordan Houser. According to Funk, Houser has really hit the weight room and is now a solid 190 pounds. Jordan’s brother Jonathan, who played a few years ago when the Hawks went undefeated, and now plays for Chadron State, has been back for the summer working out with the kids.
The quarterback position was left open with the graduation of Reggie Strotheide last year, but Funk has his eye on a couple contenders for the spot. “Joey Johnson will probably be doing some quarterbacking and Levi Ray as well. Joey is a very versatile player,” said Funk. “Last year Reggie Strotheide was a good quarterback. He had great mechanics and was a good thrower, but we’re going to probably be 60/40 or 70/30 run/pass this year. I wish we could pass it more, and maybe we’ll be able to, but it’s all dependent on our schemes and how these kids develop.”
There are a few holes to fill on the line, but Funk has some solid players returning. “That’s something I’m really going to be focusing on this year,” Funk said. “We’ve got to get our offensive line play down. It’s in the trenches that we have to win the battles.”
Last year’s center, Riley Abbott, is returning weighing in at 215 lbs. Seth Nowak is also returning, and he’s 6’3”, 200 lbs. They also just had a kid transfer in from Kansas City. He’s a 6’2”, 200 lb. sophomore, so the Hawks are going to be pretty solid up front.
“This is the first time we may have some actual size up front,” added Funk. “In eight man football I want athletic linemen. I want guys that can move, because it’s a fast game and that’s what I like about it. I can have guys weighing 140 pounds playing on the line as long as their fast, quick and do their job, you can get it done.”
According to Funk, a lot of the positions are still up for grabs. He really wants the kids to find the position they want to play, but when the pads come on he has to find the best eight guys at that time and put them on the field, regardless of what they’ve done in the past. “My job as a coach is I’ve got to find out that right fit, and we’re going to be able to move a lot of guys around,” said Funk. “That’s the other thing. You have to be versatile in eight man football, a couple injuries and you may be throwing kids into positions they’ve never been in before. So when I gave them the play books I said, ‘study more than one position.’”
Jason has been going to Hay Springs three to four nights a week this summer to open up the weight room for the kids, getting a good attendance of 8-12 kids a night. It’s not anything structured, but according to Funk, “anytime you can bring the team together its good, because then they can start to gel together. They get to know each other, and they start to develop these bonds.”
Funk has really stressed the importance of unity in his team this year. He doesn’t want a bunch of individuals, but rather a unified group of team players. He needs the kids to execute and take pride in themselves to win the battle that is each and every play. “That’s going to be my philosophy. Let’s just break it down and look at each and every play and what you can do to do the very best on that play,” Funk stated. “If everyone fulfills their assignment, then the plays will be successful and we will win games.”
“When they step on the field they have to know that they have been in a battle. We have got to out-hit players. We have to out-hustle them. We have to show that we’re in better shape and we won’t just back down. It’s too easy to get complacent and just take plays off. We had a problem last year with holding our blocks long enough. You’ve got to maintain those blocks!” Funk emphasized.
Funk will have the help of two assistant coaches from Chadron this year, along with Nick Prado. The Hawks are in a unique situation where they don’t have any coaches employed by the school. “We’re really going to miss the coaches we had last year,” Funk stated. “I’m going to miss those guys, but we’re all busy, we’re all self employed and it’s a sacrifice. I close my office down from 3:30 to 6:30, and those are my peak hours when I see the majority of my patients, but it’s worth it. It’s a sacrifice, but I’m willing to do it because I love working with the kids. I love coaching. It’s fun, and we’ve got a great group. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t be here. I see the potential, and when you see that talent and that potential you want to develop it, because my goal as a coach is not just to win games, it’s to develop them as young men and get them to be better athletes, but more importantly better students and better people. That’s the neat thing about coaching. You can teach them life skills and they can use that for the rest of their lives.”
“I’m super excited to take the helm and see what happens. They’ve got a good attitude, their hungry, they’re ready to succeed, and I can feel that in them. They are tired of getting pushed around and beat, and they need to have that attitude of ‘You’re going to have to kill me to make me stop’, or ‘you’re going to have to outplay me. You may be bigger and stronger or faster than me, but I’ve got more heart.’ You can’t coach that. It’s gotta come from within.”
The Hawks’ first game will be Friday, August 30, in Morril. Be sure to come out and cheer the Hawks on this season. It’s sure to be a good one.