The legacy of a Triton

Twait's career is defined more by relationships than championships

Photo by Paul DeCoursey Iowa Central football coach Kevin Twait shakes the hand of Jacob Giese during the Tritons' finale home game at Dodger Stadium this year.

Throughout the course of his career and above all else, Kevin Twait preached the value of commitment, loyalty and perseverance to his players.

Not just because that’s what football coaches do. This wasn’t lip service; the future Hall of Famer knew if he held his young men to a different standard of expectations as Iowa Central Tritons than his own, those words would ring hollow and fall flat.

So he practiced what he preached. Following in his father’s immense and intimidating footsteps, the Emmetsburg High School graduate rolled up his sleeves and went to work in the fall of 1996 with the intention of resurrecting Iowa Central as a football power and making the familiar soil of north-central Iowa home for his wife and four kids.

Success – and plenty of it – followed. The Tritons won 132 games in Twait’s first 18 seasons at the helm. There were 15 bowl appearances. Ten postseason victories. Eight regional championships.

Bigger and better offers came calling. Twait could have easily parlayed his Iowa Central resume into a more high-profile position elsewhere. No one would have blamed him if he left our small town and the often-thankless world of junior college football behind.

Yet he stayed. Not because he was being forced to. Not because of inertia. Twait really, truly loved Iowa Central and the Triton way of life. He loved Fort Dodge. He loved Dodger Stadium. He loved Manson, where his kids attended school. He loved Emmetsburg, the birthplace of his gridiron roots.

The way he saw it, Twait had the best of both worlds. His career was flourishing on the field, and he had the opportunity to settle down close to friends and family away from it.

In 2014, due to a number of unforeseen circumstances, Iowa Central was forced to shift directions and drastically adjust its schedule. In addition to playing their usual in-state rivals, the Tritons would also face eight JUCO programs from the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference on an annual basis. Many were traditional powers, and all had more scholarships and resources than both Iowa Central and the schools it typically squared off against.

Twait never made excuses, but the sledding was rough. The Tritons were 132-58 from 1996 through 2013. They’re 8-36 since. It’s much more complicated than using the opponent as a scapegoat – Twait would be the first to say that – but generally speaking, a football team tends to be as “good” or “bad” as its schedule allows.

Twait had enjoyed nearly two decades of steady success, but winning was always more of a relief than a reason to feel content. It was the process he craved. The grind. So once the tables began to turn and adversity followed, Twait’s resolve became more steadfast than ever.

The results over the last four years never did match the amount of time and effort Iowa Central collectively put into its product, and that tormented Twait. Not because it was affecting his own records or reputation, but because he knew how much it hurt his players to come up empty over and over again.

More than anything else, Twait enjoyed winning as a payoff of sorts for his squad. To an 18-, 19- or 20-year-old kid, conference titles and bowl victories were tangible proof that the hours and days and weeks and months of dedication all were worth it.

Conversely, losing can be an insufferable conclusion to the same process. Again, not because of how it made Twait personally feel, but how he knew it made his players feel. Everything he had always championed – again, commitment, loyalty and perseverance – was put to the test and through the ringer these last four years. Over and over again.

When the Tritons defeated seventh-ranked Butler last Saturday – a stunning 7-0 triumph on the road that ended Iowa Central’s excruciating 25-game losing streak – Twait decided it was time, and that this game would be his last. It wasn’t the ending he’d necessarily envisioned, but watching his sophomores celebrate their first victory in their final contest offered a sense of both perspective and meaning that gave him closure.

It was always about so much more than the wins and losses for Twait. Whether it was 1997, 2007 or 2017, the coach wanted to build character, cultivate passion and instill values while preparing young men for the real world. Football was the metaphor.

Twait gave Iowa Central everything he had for 22 years on the sidelines, deciding early on that he would be forever a Triton. He never strayed when things were going well, and the administration didn’t forget that just because times got tough.

As a result, Twait is able to leave the game on his terms. As a bonus, Iowa Central keeps its relationship with him intact this summer, when he becomes the new athletic director.

Commitment. Loyalty. Perseverance. In a day and age where society tends to fall short in all three aspects, it’s satisfying to know that Twait’s message will continue to reach Triton students, coaches and programs – thanks in large part to the allegiance he pledged to the school long ago.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net