Lifting a program

Published 4:03 am Monday, March 18, 2013

—This feature originally appeared in Progress 2013. Get a copy at the Austin Daily Herald office, 310 Second St. NE.

Packers hit the weight room to boost their record

In his first year, Austin head coach Brett Vesel helped the Packers snap a two-season winless streak. Now, he’s hoping for even bigger things.

While football doesn’t start until the fall, the season has been very much alive in the Austin High School weight room during the offseason. Vesel has been front and center in the team’s weightlifting program, which includes workouts on Monday through Thursday.

Since he came to Austin, Vesel has been adamant about the importance of the weight room, and he’s pleased with the turnout this year.

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“It’s the backbone, the legs and the neck [of the program]. It’s everything,” he said. “If you don’t lift, you’re not going to win, and that’s the bottom line. Hopefully we can get these guys to buy into lifting consistently, and things hopefully can change.”

The Packers went 2-7 in 2012, and many sophomores and some freshman received a trial by fire by playing varsity. Those players are now hoping to build some strength for 2013.

Austin junior Gabe Gerstner is hoping the younger players buy into the weightlifting program this winter and the offseason program this summer.

“I talked to some of the underclassmen, and they said the game is really fast and the guys are really big. I told them, ‘you’ll get that way if you work hard and lift. It’ll come to you,’” he said. “The offseason is really important, because you can’t lift during the season. You get bigger, stronger and faster in the offseason.”

Gerstner said Vesel picked a few leaders amongst the upperclassmen, and those leaders drafted weightlifting “teams” to keep things competitive.

“It makes the offseason more of a team aspect instead of being an individual,” Gerstner said. “That’s a good way to do it.”

Vesel came to Austin last year from La Crescent and had to spend much of his early time getting to know his team. Besides coaching football in the fall, Vesel was the junior varsity hockey coach this winter, which helped him get to know a few more students who might be interested in playing football in the fall.

“I feel better now,” Vesel said. “I know who actually plays football, and I know who we need to try to get to play football. Now I know the kids better and know what they can do. That makes it easier.”

Austin’s younger players are slowly coming in more often, and the veterans on the squad have been in almost every day.

As the program grows, Vesel is hoping his numbers increase.

“Football is a numbers game, and if you get decent success, that’ll help the numbers,” Vesel said. “We didn’t win nearly as many games as we wanted to last year. I think kids can see we’re on the road to improvement, and hopefully we can get some more numbers.”

Of all the players working in the offseason, junior Cory Hepler may be one of the more motivated. Hepler injured his knee on one of his first carries of the season last year, and he’s aiming to come back strong for his senior year.

“I’m very hungry,” Hepler said. “I really want to start next year and make up for junior year. It’s especially competitive between me and Elijah Dammen, because he started last year and it’s between me and him at running back.”


Brett Vesel

Vesel is entering his second year as the head football coach of the Packers, who went 2-7 in his first season.

Age: 49

Job: Math and physical education teacher, and Austin football coach

Town: Austin

Hobbies: Vesel likes motocross racing, hunting and spending time with family.