Season of change, Hatchets say hello to new head football coach and goodbye to Marawood
By Jed Buelow
Tomahawk Leader Co-Editor, Sports, Nature Editor
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
It is a lesson the Tomahawk Hatchet football team has had to learn over nearly the past decade playing in one of the toughest conferences in the state since joining the Marawood back in 2011. It is also a lesson new Hatchet head coach Sam Hernandez has had to work through after taking the head coach position earlier this year.
Not only did he half to relocate his family from one side of the state to the other over the summer, but his family has had to face some tough challenges in the transition that can be best described as good character building moments.
Like the final game last season against Marathon. Never before had the Hatchets beat the Red Raiders, one of the three perennial powerhouses of the Marawood. After building a comfortable lead in the first half, Tomahawk was able to hang on to get the 20-18 win to finish out the year on a very positive note.
“Great game, great effort, great way to finish up the season. It was awesome that we were able to do it on senior night at home on Hatchet Field and in front of our Hatchet fans,” stated Hatchet head coach John Larson following the game. “I am so happy for our seniors. It is a fitting way for them to close out their careers.”
It turned out it was also a fitting way for coach Larson to finish out his career, as months later he would announce he would be hanging it up after 23 years at the helm.
“It really has been a whirlwind summer, like everything is moving at 100 mph,” Hernandez said after facing some tough challenges since taking the job. “We are just excited to be here. The people in Tomahawk have just been awesome.”
Along with the challenges of having to move a family of five across state from Johnson Creek, which is located midway between Madison and Milwaukee, the Hernandez family has also had to face some challenges early on since moving to their new hometown.
Before the ink was even dry after closing on their new home, just as the last of two Uhauls was being unpacked, a fierce storm hit that sent them running for the basement of their new home. When the clouds cleared and the storm passed, they went outside to find a large tree had fallen on the roof of their home causing significant damage.
Typically the start of the football season would be considered the busy season with practices getting underway and getting ready for game day. Coach Hernandez said with a smile while taking a break from picking up a child from swimming lessons that he was looking forward to having a few less balls in the air and getting back to the gridiron.
“Just excited to work with the kids and get the season started. We had camp last week and it was so awesome,” coach Hernandez said. “I look forward to building those relationships and building that rapport as we spend the next three months together.”
Coming from a tough Six Rivers Conference that also boasts some perennial powerhouses like Black Hawk and other top teams in that top-heavy conference , Hernandez said he looks forward to facing top teams like Edgar, Stratford and Marathon.
“The plan is to continue to develop the program and continue to build where coach Larson left off,” the coach said. “It will be exciting to go toe-to-toe with these guys that you see at Camp Randall almost each and every year.”
The offensive coordinator from Johnson Creek, coach Hernandez will have plenty of seasons of his own to draw from as he takes over the Hatchet football program. Prior to his past eight years at the creek, Hernandez spent the previous five years coaching football at Lake Mills as part of a career that has spanned the past 11 years. Along with football, he has also coached varsity girls’ basketball as well as other sports. He will also be teaching eighth grade English with the Tomahawk School District and has also taught social studies during his nearly decade-long career in education.
Hernandez will also have some big help transitioning into his new role, as longtime Hatchet defensive coordinator John Long will be back for another year and Ryan Flynn is stepping in to help train quarterbacks to go along with his duties as the team’s physical trainer.
The Hatchets return six seniors to this year’s team and the new coach said he is letting his underclassman know that nobody has a starting position secured as practice begins. He notes the good side of having a somewhat younger team is the fact that it will bring out the best in practice as his players compete for playing time.
Hernandez also plans to use his platform as Hatchet head coach to do some good in the community similar to what he did back in Johnson Creek where some games were played to raise money for Autism Awareness. The Hatchets will play a similar game in week four against Auburndale, as that night money will be raised for Juvenile Diabetes Awareness.
Along with having a new head coach, this year will mark the final season the Hatchets’ compete in the Marawood. A conference-realignment next year that will move Tomahawk to the MONLPC-West where they will face teams like Northland Pines, Crandon, Oconto Falls, Coleman and Crivitz.
Just like Hatchet football, the Hernandez family has had to face some difficult challenges as they transition to their new home in Tomahawk. But in the end the team will all be stronger for the adversity overcame and challenges faced and serve as living proof that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.