Aaron Meyer played three years of varsity football at quarterback and defensive back for the Stewartville Tigers. His senior season he played in the section finals.
Times were good for the program.
After college, Meyer got the opportunity to coach his hometown team, but the times had changed. The program had fallen on hard times. When Meyer took over, he made it his mission to restore the program to the glory days of his youth.
“They were 1-8, 0-9 and 3-6 the three years before I took over,” Meyer said. “I really wanted to see the program back to where I thought it should be and where I wanted to see it. 1-8 was hard for me to be a part of and watch.”
Ever since Meyer was young, he knew he wanted to play football.
“Ever since I was little, sports were a part of my family,” Meyer said. “It was something I loved right away. It was something my dad and I bonded with.”
A three-sport athlete, for Meyer, football was first.
“I always felt that football was the most exciting sport I played. I was a basketball and track athlete too, but I always felt the football games were the most fun.”
As natural as playing football was for Meyer – coaching wasn’t far behind.
“Even when I was in high school I was breaking down film, looking for tendencies,” the Tigers’ alumni recalled.” I didn’t really know that is what coaches did, but I figured out fast that my friends weren’t breaking down film, watching every play five to ten times. I have always enjoyed that part of it. I just eat that stuff up.”
Meyer’s first job out of college was a long-term substitute job back in Stewartville. In five years he worked his way up from volunteer coach to the head coach. He felt the foundation for a program turnaround was in place. It was up to him and his staff to take advantage of it.
“When I got the head job I asked the principal of the school if I could meet with all the boys and any girls who were interested in playing football,” Meyer told northstarfootballnews. “I just wanted to get our numbers up. Each class had ten to maybe fifteen kids that would come out for football. Five years before that I had graduated with twenty-five kids who were out for football. I knew we had to get the numbers up.”
Meyer was a twenty-six-year-old head coach. His youth and inexperience both helped and hurt the program.
“I was a young, fresh face in the school,” Meyer said. “I think that brought a little excitement to the players. I knew I was going to change the offense up. We were running a Wing-T system, and it was fine, but it wasn’t what I knew. I was more of an I-formation, open things up a bit guy. Talking to the players and telling them we were going to throw the ball around a bit was exciting for them.”
The new coaches’ inexperience came through while trying to find the perfect defense.
“One of my biggest flaws when I first started coaching was I had a new defense every year,” Meyer admitted. “Let’s be a 4-4. Then we were a 3-5, then we were a 3-3 stack. Pretty soon I realized this wasn’t working. We finally dialed it in and decided we were going to be a cover two shell with a 4-3 front.”
Meyer had a great senior class his first year and got out of the gate with a 7-3 season, but things fell off quickly after that. Although the numbers were creeping upward, Meyer was unable to keep a consistent coaching staff and the program struggle because of it.
“Eventually I got some dedicated coaches who knew their X’s and O’s,” Meyer said. “We get along great. That has been a huge part of where our program is now. The consistency of hearing the same message from 7th grade through your senior year, you are running the same stuff. That lets players play and stops them from thinking so much. Garrett Mueller is my offensive coordinator. He is a tremendous play caller and game planner. He is kind of my right-hand man. It was nice to be able to turn the offense over to him, so I could focus on the defense and the offensive line. Jon Severson has also been with me the whole time. He is my defensive coordinator and is a great balance for me. I am laid back, and he brings some fire to the defense, our coaching staff, and our team.”
Tiger Pride is Born
Once the head coach and the staff got settled, a consistent message and consistent offensive and defensive schemes took shape. The re-building of Stewartville football was full-speed ahead.
“We wanted to go to the spread. The offense was simple to start with. Since then we have been able to take a lot of the stuff we used in our I formation from when I first started, and even some of the Wing-T stuff and have been able to apply that to the spread,” Meyer explained. “Now we have a playbook that looks complicated. It looks like we have twenty different formations – we do have a lot of formations – but a lot of it is window dressing. We are doing simple stuff from a lot of different looks. We have been able to take the same plays and use different formations based on our personnel. If we have a good tight end we will run the plays with the tight end – if we don’t, we will run four wideouts. If we have two good backs, we might go from under center. We have been able to take a basic set of plays and schemes, and instead of trying to fit players into a system, we can mold the system to the players we have.”
Although he learned his lesson and doesn’t make wholesale changes to the defense anymore, Meyer sometimes can’t help himself.
“I will still throw a new front in there and if you will look at it and say it is a 3-4 front. Yeah, it is, but I call it something different. For the most part, we have kept things simple. Instead of throwing five different things at an offense – we were very good at any of them – we are good at maybe two different things.”
Learning the physical parts of schemes is important, but Meyer and his staff make sure the kids know why they are doing things.
“I think if the guys understand what the situation in the game is and why we are calling the play we are calling I think that helps them play fast,” Meyer said. “We push the kids to be smarter football players.”
They also focus on being smarter people.
“On Mondays, we game plan a little bit about that week’s opponent, but before that, we talk about what is our character thing we are going to focus on that week,” Meyer said. “That has helped get the community to support us that we are not just about wins and losses we are about getting things done the right way.”
The right way includes Tiger Pride.
“When I first took over I wanted to think of something to kind of rally the troops a little bit,” Meyer explained. “I know it is a pride of lions, but I figured tigers were close enough. Tiger Pride is about family and unity. We will do anything to protect our own and our territory. The double meaning is being proud of what you do and working hard, having some toughness, not giving in and doing the little things. Then we bring it all back to it not just as a football player. You are trying to be a good brother, son, student – tying it all together. Football becomes a part of a bigger picture.”
“We talk about being accountable,” Meyer continued. “We talk about having some grit and toughness. We talk about being a family. We will have a coach do a talk with the players about whatever the trait is for the week.”
Possibly the most powerful message came from JV coach Ramsey Miller.
“He went through some Chemo treatments that he went though. He talks about perseverance,” Meyer said.” His junior and senior year he was in the hospital. Here we are with forty or fifty kids in a classroom that is too crowded, too hot and it smells bad, but there are guys tearing up in there because of Coach Miller’s experiences as a kid. I don’t know how a kid can’t be going full speed on a sprint when you are thinking about that.”
The Stewartville program has come up with creative ways to help the kids develop physically as well.
“Coach Mueller runs our weight room. He came from a 5A school in North Carolina and came up with our Iron Tiger program,” Meyer explained. “It is a weight lifting program where our guys are lifting three times a week during the school year and four times a week in the summer. We’ve turned our summer weight lifting into competitions. In a few weeks, we will have a draft where our eight team leaders will draft who is going to be on their weightlifting team. Each week their weightlifting team is going against another weightlifting team in competitions. Attendance is one part of it, but we will have tug of wars, pull up competitions and sprinting competitions. We will take exercise balls and have a guy from one team grab it, and one guy from another team grab it, and we will see who ends up with it. We will take two big dumb bells and walk them around the parking lot and see who has to put them down first. We still do our power cleans and out bench presses, but there are points attached. By the end of the week each team knows where they stand and at the end of the summer, we crown a champion. It has brought a whole new level of completion to the weight room. It has brought excitement and energy to the weight room.”
The excitement in Stewartville’s offense has been run by just two quarterbacks the last six years. Next year they will have someone new under center.
“Isaac Bussen is going to be our quarterback next year,” Meyer said. “He has been waiting his turn and is going to be a great leader. We have four or five running backs who could play on most teams. On defense, we’ve got some guys coming back who could be stars. James Krukow is a big strong linebacker and could be the best linebacker in the conference.”
Obviously, Meyer’s ultimate goal for the program is to win state titles, but he can take pride in the fact that Meyer and his staff have restored the Tigers’ football program not only to the days when the now eleven-year head coach was a player but beyond.
“It was a slow build back to where we are now,” Meyer said, “but I enjoy seeing where we are at now knowing where it was at.”