Plattsmouth High School constructing winning mentality

Posted at 2:08 PM, Aug 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-25 15:08:06-04

If you drive south on Highway 75 just past Offutt Air Force Base, you will start to see construction. As businesses go up, houses are being built and roads are being paved and expanded.

If you continue South, you will come across a small town going through its own construction that may not be noticeable at first glance. 

Plattsmouth High School has been building a winning athletic program, consistently winning district titles and state championships over the past 10 years.

Many people involved in the athletic program, including Activities Director Shaun Brothers, believe the success of the programs stems from the high school fitness center. Brothers said building the fitness center was something former principal Connie Heinen and current principal Jeff Wiles “pushed and had inspiration to get done” years ago.

“I came here 14 years ago as a teacher and a coach and at that time, the big push was to build the Fitness Center,” Brothers said. “There were a lot of people, specifically in the wrestling community, that really wanted it, but it was built to help all sports.”

The fitness center Brothers is referring to is the 8,800-square-foot on-campus building that was completed in 2005 to help student-athletes train properly and give the wrestling team one of the best high school facilities in the state.

Now, 10 years after its completion, the results are showing. 

In 2015, the boy’s basketball team qualified for the state tournament for the first time since 1991. The wrestling team won the 2016 class B state duals championship and finished runner-up at the state tournament.

The football team finished the 2015 regular season undefeated for the first time in program history and won the schools first playoff game since 1979.

The boy’s soccer team became district champions for the first time in program history in 2016, and the boys track and field teams have been district champions seven of the last eight years, winning the State Championship in 2008.

The girl’s teams are seeing success as well. The cross-country team has been district champions three of the past four years. The track and field 4x800 meter relay team claimed the Class B State Championship the past three years, and April Graham won the Eastern Midlands Conference 800-meter-dash four years in a row.

The programs have been so successful that the school ran out of room to put district runner-up and district championship plaques and is now working on a new area for the public to view them.

“I think the success of all sports kind of breeds through each other,” Head Wrestling Coach Curtis Gocke said. “We have a lot of two-and-three-sport athlete kids.

“You know, we have a lot of kids coming off of successful cross-country seasons and we have a lot of kids coming off of successful football seasons, and some people may see that as a down fall because the seasons run so long. But when you get down to it, it’s kind of like that competitive mentality, and the kids like it.”

Gocke took over as head coach, in 2014, after serving as an assistant on the team for seven years. Last season he guided the program on its way to winning its first ever state duals championship and finished runner-up to Omaha Skutt Catholic at the state tournament by only one point. This was the programs first runner-up finish at the state tournament since 2006.

On top of the wrestling program’s success, Gocke has the team competing at a national level, entering tournaments in Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa.

Though it may seem risky to compete outside the state, Gocke believes that opportunity only helps.  

“I can think of numerous kids who come to our district [tournament] and even at the state tournament who have great records, like 32-1 or 34-0 and they don’t end up where they want to be," Gocke said. "Our kids walk in there with 12 or 13 losses but yet we’re pulling some of the highest medals because of the level of competition we see, so it’s okay to take that risk.”

Though all sports seem to be performing at a high level, the football team, based on its records, remains the most eye-popping.

Just how big of a turnaround has it been for the Blue Devils? Consider the following: from 1990-1999 the Plattsmouth football team averaged just two wins a season. It won a total of 20 games including two winless seasons in 1990 and 1996. The 1996 team managed to score just 29 points for the entire season.

While the teams were more competitive from 2000-2004 - the 2002 team made the playoffs for the first time since finishing runner-up in the 1979 state championship - the Blue Devils still averaged just two wins a season.

However, since the fitness center was completed in 2005, records show the teams have improved.  

The team has seven playoff appearance in the last eight years, including five straight for the first time in school history from 2009-2014. It has earned six district titles since 2009 - the program had not won a district championship since 1979 - and the 2009 team reached the seven-win mark for the first time since 1982.

Then, there was the 2015 season. The  Blue Devils finished the regular season undefeated for the first time in school history, beating third ranked Gretna along the way.

Last season also included the schools first playoff win in 37 years, putting the Blue Devils at the ten-win mark for the first time since 1979. The Blue Devils finished last season ranked No. 7 in Class B after losing to McCook in the second round of the playoffs, finishing the season at 10-1.  

Head Football Coach Bob Dzuris, who took over the program in 2012 from Bob Fuller, says the weight room has played a big part in helping build his program to where it is today.

“I think it’s a combination of bigger, faster, stronger and it’s a combination of things I have done over the years,” Dzuris said. “I have all sorts of copies of Husker Power too, but at the end of the day it’s all about the kids putting in the time and work ethic.

“Where I really see the effect (of the weight room) is when you have a junior who maybe wasn’t that good of an athlete, but now he’s physically able to compete now at 16 or 17 just because of the weight room, where otherwise, he may not have been able to compete until he was 18.”  

Having an identity on the field has been another part of the success over the years and Dzuris said it will be important heading into next year as well.

 “Even though we throw the ball a lot more than coach Fuller did, we still have an identity of running the ball and playing defense and that will continue in 2016 because we won’t be as talented as we were last year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be successful.”  

To help the kids understand the identity of the system he wants to run, Dzuris has made sure the seventh and eighth grade teams are running the same offense and defense as the varsity team at the high school.

Being a member of the Eastern Midlands Conference has not made things easy for the the athletic programs at the school over the years.  The EMC is widely considered the toughest conference in Class B.

Just last season, six of the eight schools in the state baseball tournament were members of the EMC. In football, conference member Elkhorn South won the 2015 State Championship.

The tough competition the teams see every year has the coaches setting reasonable goals for the future.

“I think you have to be realistic about a public high school,” Brothers said. “We do play a very tough schedule, I mean, pick a sport, our schedule is tough in everything and out of nine schools in the EMC we’re seventh in enrollment. Things like that make it difficult, especially in sports where numbers matter, like football.”

Tough schedule or not, coaches at Plattsmouth believe they have proven over the past ten years they can now win at the top level. A lot of the success may stem from the ability to train properly in the fitness center.

Those involved in the programs know it is giving the teams a chance to sustain that success for years to come, as long as the students and athletes are willing to put in the time.

“That weight room can make an average player better with good instruction and good teaching,” Dzuris said. “That weight room can also take an injury plagued kid and allow him to get in there every day. 

“One thing we think is important and we hope never changes in our society is that hard work trumps talent and it does over time.”