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Undefeated '77 Trojans had right combinations on field
February 24, 2011
|Front Row: Dave Scott, Mark Merrigan, Rick Rodman, Bob Osterday, Mike Freidel, Kim Nelson, Mike Kerns, Kim Mebius. 2nd Row: Russ Schwartz, Lynn Schuett, Gene Esser, Steve Reudebusch, Gregg Doctor, Charlie Bliss, Ray Meinsen, Marcus Willard, Jon Gonsor. 3rd Row: Tim Butler, Doug Lather, Perry Scott, Todd Payer, Delvin Meinen, Joe Arthur, Lee Threadgold, Jim Janssen, Tom Burg. 4th Row: Gregg Struwe, Dale Martin, Rick Tibbett, Tom Newman, Jerry Comerford, Clark Baker, Dan Haugland, Dave Weisz. 5th Row: Mitch Johnson, Carlos Cornay, Mike Gorder, Tim Wingen, Tom Udell, Mark Hughes, Wade Davis, Russ Johnson. 6th Row: Roger Mesteth, Peter Daiker, Tim Novak, Casey Jones, Paul McCarthy, Steve Maloney, Laverne Tetzlaff, Phil Dean, Ted Bryant. 7th Row: Brian Leighton, Ken Nielsen, Joe Delaney, Dave Lather, Richie Hagins, Kevin Donovan, Tom Payor, Ed Corbett, Terry Shoenfelder. 8th Row: Todd Dean, Don Rydell, Les Gonsor, Mark Vilhauer, Doug Bailey. Back Row (Coaches): Jody Boline, John Nyhaug, Al Weisbecker, Gary Buer, Tom Weatherford, Mike Thackery, Mike Allison, Gary Schumacher.|
"This team has achieved something that's never been done in the history of school. I believe it's a result of a group of young men dedicating themselves to hard work, sacrifice and dedication." Then head coach Gary Buer said this of his 1977 football Trojans who achieved a perfect 10-0 season, including an SDIC title, in the 1977-78 Trojan, Dakota State's annual.
Over 30 years later, Buer, whose coaching career has led him to Independence High School at Glendale, Ariz., added: "They were well-coached in individual techniques. They were just great athletes." He is the first one to admit that he got a team which was constructed well by Joel Swisher the three previous seasons.
"Coach Swisher had done a fantastic job of recruiting and developing these fine young men," he said from his coach's office at Independence High. "I was blessed to inherit such a complete football team."
Regretfully, Swisher can't tell people detail-by-detail how he built that Trojan team. He had an outstanding coaching career end suddenly on Feb. 17, 2000 at Rochester, Minn., dying from a heart attack.
At the time of his death, Swisher had coached Rochester Community Technical College for five seasons, amassing a 44-9 record which included three Community College Conference championships.
"Coach Swisher assembled a very good coaching staff that was still in place for the '77 season," said Kim Mebius, then a starting senior defensive back who is now a banker in Correctionville, Iowa. "To coach Buer's credit, he knew he inherited a good machine. He just needed to steer it in the right direction."
Helping steer the Trojans along the way were defensive coordinator Al Weisbecker, offensive line coach Mike Allison, offensive back coach Tom Weatherford, defensive back coach Gary Schumacher and student assistants John Nyhaug (linebackers), Jody Boline (defensive ends) and Mike Thackery (offensive line).
Defense was key to Trojans' 'perfection'
From the start of '77 season to its record-setting end, defense was what stood out for any number of Trojans. Weisbecker's defenders rose to the top of the NAIA's statistics board, stingily giving up just 42 points the entire season.
The 'Big Blue' shot out Huron College 3-0, Northern State 21-0 and SD Tech 31-0. By season's end, Dakota State placed sixth in the NAIA in rushing defense, giving up just 70.2 yards on the ground, and fifth in total defense, yielding just 181.7 yards each time out.
"Wise Al, as we called him, had a way about him that season," cited Mebius. "He was able to call the right defense at the right time. It seemed like whenever the other team's offense was ready to make a big play, 'Wise Al' came up with a defensive call to shut them down."
"Of course, it took a group of good players to execute his plan. Coach Schumacher was a small guy with a fiery-type personality. He knew and taught the defensive game well. He had the ability to get after and ride a player to get the most out of him without getting the player down."
Freidel powered defense to the top of NAIA
Nyhaug, who converted a player/coach career at Dakota State into a successful coaching career at both Viborg and Hurley, feels that the Trojans' linebackers were the hub of the Trojans' defense. (Nyhaug's latest coaching success came last season when his Viborg/Hurley Cougars forged a 10-2 year and a runner-up in its class's state championships.)
"I think that I was fortunate to work with some great linebackers," admitted Nyhaug. "Mike Freidel and Mark Merrigan were both All-Americans in my mind and were leaders on the team. Also I think Coach Weisbecker did an outstanding job coordinating the defense.
Freidel, a three-year starter, topped the team in tackles with 162 and six interceptions. He was named the Trojans' most valuable player and named an NAIA All-American at the end of the '77 season.
It would be oh so very nice to get Freidel's insights on the Trojans' stoic and solid defense.
A freak and tragic accident on June 19, 2006 stopped that prospect cold in Wyoming. On that day, Freidel was helping a rancher friend there --- it was an experience Freidel enjoyed in other summers. He was inflating a low tire on a trailer when the tire and rim exploded, causing critical head injuries to Freidel. Over the next almost five years, he underwent many, many stages of rehabilitation. Freidel now lays in a hospital bed at Vermillion's Sanford Hospital.
"Essentially, he is unable to communicate, move his body or perform any day-to-day tasks," said his wife Joni. "He requires full-time nursing care. Our hope derives from the intermittent glimmer of understanding in his eyes that we periodically catch. But, the majority of the time, he is daydreaming or doesn't comprehend what we are saying."
"The priority is to keep him in good physical shape. As long as he is healthy, there is hope. Either a medical breakthrough or a God-given miracle would be great with us! Not asking for much, are we?"
Joni Freidel concluded, "I do know that Mike considered his days at Dakota State very fondly, and I believe his success and leadership tweaked his ability to X's and O's." (After graduation, Freidel coached with Buer at Southwest Minnesota State University and two stints as defensive coordinator at Augustana. He also coached at USD twice. In 2004, he rejoined the Coyotes' staff as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator.)
Offense cataches up with defense after some games
"The defense won us a couple of early games, and then mid-way in the season, the offense got behind the running of Jim Janssen and then our offense got rolling," said Kim Nelson, then wide receiver for DSC and now head coach for the Sioux Falls Roosevelt Rough Riders.
Buer added, "It took the offense a little longer to develop a personality of their own. We had made a switch from Coach Swisher's Wing T offense to a more conventional I formation. In the last five games, we had a very balanced and proficient offensive effort."
In those last five games, the Trojans averaged 345 yards. The offense also got 21 or more points each of those games, while the defense claimed three shut-outs in their last six contests.
"Really, the chemistry on the team was phenomenal," said Charlie Bliss, the Trojans' starting quarterback that season.
From his desk at Engine's 55 fire station in Chicago, he added, "I had heard that we were going to be a high-powered offensive team. It turned out that we were a tough defensive team. However, both our offense and defense blended well. Our defense didn't give us a hard time because the offense didn't produce at times." (In addition to being a Chicago firefighter, Bliss is the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Main South High School in Parkside, Ill. Following his career at DSC, Bliss had tryouts with both the NFL's Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears, and then played semi-pro ball and coached at Northeast Illinois University.)
"We had a hard-hitting bunch of guys on offense," said Jim Janssen, who was the Trojans' pile-driving fullback. (He has been a member of both sanitation and water departments for the City of Watertown for many years since his DSC days.)
"Lynn Schuett, Perry Scott and Lee Threadgold made holes for us running backs," added Janssen. "They formed a big 'O' line."
"I really got a bang out of beating Northern," smiled Threadgold. "The Wolves usually kicked us in the past. We played that game on a very, very muddy Trojan Field, so it slowed the game down to my speed."
As for the 31-0 win over Tech, which came two Saturdays after the 21-0 victory over Northern, Threadgold, who ended up being tabbed an All-SDIC player, added, "One of Coach Buer's most inspirational pre-game talks got us going. We went out there on Tech's field and opened up with a 12-play, 70-yard drive while ended up with Jim Janssen scoring on a six-yard burst. From then on, the rout was on."
The Trojans, after thumping Tech, finished the year with wins over Dakota Wesleyan, 21-6 and then Sioux Falls College 21-7.
Many of the '77 Trojans, especially Nelson, feel that it was unfortunate that Dakota State wasn't one of the four NAIA teams invited to its postseason semifinals back then.
"I really thought we could make the national playoffs," bemoaned Nelson. "There were only four teams were chosen at the time. We were one of the several undefeated teams in our region which didn't make the cut." For most part, if not all of the Trojans on that team, their experience at Dakota State and playing football was very special.
Bliss expressed it well.
"Ten years after I left Dakota State, I began to realize how important those people -- the players, coaches and other students -- were," said Bliss. "They showed me how good they were. My home life wasn't that great. They were good teammates, too, and that was special. They helped me grow up."
1977 Trojan Football Results (10-0 overall record, SDIC Champions)
|Southwest Minnesota State||34||3|
|Black Hills State||20||7|
|University of South Dakota/Springfield||23||7|
|Sioux Falls College||21||7|
|Average Points Per Game:||19.0||4.2|
Dan Holsworth, Dakota State University Athletics Assistant
Edited by Nick Huntimer, Dakota State University Sports Information Director