Varsity Kansas

History a part of Kapaun's drive

So much is in the past at Kapaun Mount Carmel when it comes to the football team. Even tonight, when they take the field for a Class 5A semifinal at Hutchinson, the Crusaders need only look at each other for reminders.

"We've got such a rich tradition, there are always going to be great expectations," seventh-year coach Dan Adelhardt said. "It's hard to forget the past."

It's something those in the present understand very well.

"Look at the great football teams in the '70s and '80s, and there's Kapaun at the top of the list," Adelhardt said. "And then you've got Lawrence and more recently, Hutchinson."

The Crusaders are 8-2 this season after last Friday's thrilling 32-31 win over McPherson, the first state playoff win for Kapaun since 2005. Adelhardt, year-in and year-out, operates in the shadow of coach Ed Kriwiel's nine state titles from 1969-1990. Consistent losses to Heights, and, more importantly, west-side rival Bishop Carroll, increase the scrutiny.

Adelhardt has a consistent response.

"We're one of the smaller 5A schools, closer to a 4A some years, so we need to understand we have a smaller margin of error," Adelhardt said. "I challenge our kids to play football like it's their opportunity to get what they want out of life. Don't just play for fun. Play at that level where it's important to our lives and you do the little things that make you able to compete with the best."

The players appear to have bought in.

Senior Nick Cook moved from free safety to outside linebacker this season, where the 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior's play has generated interest from several MIAA schools, including Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State.

"He is a warrior," Adelhardt said. "A true leader."

Cook's pedigree demands as much.

His father, Mike, was an assistant to Kriwiel from 1983 to 1989, and was on the staff for the last of Kriwiel's nine state titles in 1987. His mother, Jennifer, was an assistant girls basketball coach at Kapaun from 1991 to 1998. Neither of those are the most important connection to Nick.

"Having success here is a big deal to me, I guess, because my big brother Mike played here and never won a playoff game," Nick said. "I remember everything about him playing; all those games are just ingrained in my memory.

"I guess that makes me feel like what we're doing now is part of something bigger, that commitment that coach talks about. The guys on this team believe in that."

Senior safety Michael Martin sparked Kapaun's rally against McPherson with a 66-yard punt return. His connection to Kapaun, like Cook, goes back to when he was an infant. His mother, Kim Martin, was a basketball star for the Crusaders in the mid-90s then played at Rockhurst University and professionally in Sweden, where she still lives.

She also played on some of the teams Cook's mother helped coach, which the two boys pointed out, laughing at the coincidence.

"I guess I came (to Kapaun) with a lot of expectations, a lot of people that knew who I was because of her," Martin said. "My mom, she used to bring me up here when I was a baby, which I don't have any memory of but there are still people around that remember me from that."

Martin's view of his teammates also breeds into his Adelhardt's all-in philosophy.

"I see where (Adelhardt) is coming from," Martin said. "You're trying to take a group of strangers, basically, and get them to come together for a common goal. You've got to open yourself up to getting to know these people, and you come to appreciate them for who they are because you've made that bond in the locker room and by spending time together outside of football."

Senior Nathan Degenhardt is a second-generation quarterback, but a first-generation Crusader. His father, Dave, played quarterback at Carroll in the '80s but raised his family on the east side and Nathan is the oldest of four children — two boys and two girls.

"I guess since I'm the first one of us to go through here, I want people to like me," Degenhardt said, smiling. "I want to have a good reputation and do things right, which is a lot of what coach talks about, and everybody has to buy in for it to work. We love playing together, what's best for the team is what needs to be done. I think that says everything."