Jags enjoy the fruits of their labor
CEDAR FALLS — Little kids in the backyard count down the clock and throw the football in the end zone as the final seconds of a championship scenario count down.
You do a spin move at the park to get around a defender, and then hurdle another and jaunt 99 yards to the end zone.
As a 10-year old, you dream of what it will be like when you wear your team colors and run down the field with your teammates in high school someday.
On Friday, 47 athletes from Southeast Valley made their dreams come true as they hoisted the Class 2A state championship trophy.
It was a common goal that everyone shared — not just believing it, but going out and achieving it.
In preseason and in the locker room, coaches can tell by preparation and work ethic if they have a team ready to contend — or if they have the “it” factor.
From day one, Jaguar head coach Mike Swieter didn’t just feel it — he knew it.
Every workout, every practice, each game brought the program closer together and to their ultimate goal.
It wasn’t cockiness. It was confidence. This program had a swagger and an edge.
Swieter also built a foundation at Southeast Valley when the Prairie Valley and Southeast Webster-Grand programs consolidated eight years ago. The 21-year coaching veteran focused on culture, and this year’s state championship team followed it to perfection.
Offseason workouts at 6:45 a.m. four days a week was the building block.
The players have talked all season long about their brotherhood, but the atmosphere under Swieter — flanked by assistant coaches Mark Graves, Kyle Johnson, Mitch Murphy, Aaron Swieter and Gary Balk — created a real family on the Jaguar sidelines.
The success didn’t happen overnight. It gradually became a reality. Before this season, it had been three district championships and a shot at the semifinals.
After falling a game short of the UNI-Dome last year, this group was ready to take the biggest step yet.
On Sunday evening in Gowrie, the champions were honored by their fans in a welcome-home party. A packed gym of Jaguar supporters honored their championship football squad — the first ever for the school district.
The final go-round then arrived for 13 seniors, who started this process as fifth-grade teammates.
It’s difficult to understand how tough it was to win this state championship, because of how easy the Jaguars made it look.
With only one blemish on their resume in arguably the toughest district in the state, Southeast Valley secured its fourth consecutive district championship.
The slate had five ranked teams in the Top-5. The sixth-ranked Jaguars flew under the radar some, even after knocking off two-time defending champion OABCIG twice.
Then, after a white-washing of perennial power Waukon, everyone started to notice the small school from Gowrie, which banded 16 communities together spanning 498 square miles.
Once the Jaguars etched their names into the school’s record book with a win over West Lyon, the celebration began.
And the tears started flowing.
It was mixed emotions of jubilation and sadness. The goal was achieved. The championship was theirs.
The process was over.
The early-morning practices, workouts, the two-a-days that were painful but useful — all gone.
The bond will last forever, but the time spent together every day in the fall and on Friday nights had come to an end.
This group will never forget what they accomplished or the memories they made since they were young.
Those dreams and backyard pickup games were what built this team into dreamers, believers and champions.
Chris Johnson is Assistant Sports Editor at The Messenger. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ChrisJohnson_17.