Duane Schulte of Cedar Rapids Xavier is The Gazette's 2017 football coach of the year

December 10, 2017 | 7:06 am
Xavier players lift head coach Duane Schulte into the air as they celebrate their 31-13 win at the boys' high school class 3A championship football game with Pella at the UNI Dome in Cedar Falls on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Chapter 1:

CEDAR RAPIDS — On the wall behind Duane Schulte’s desk hangs laminated newspapers from seasons Cedar Rapids Xavier reached the playoff round of 16.

Eyes don’t have to wander far to see an old photo of two smiling sons, Bryce and Quinn, as they bring home their newborn sister, Hope, from the hospital. The picture is taped near the obituary of his father, Greg, and a funeral pamphlet of his late mother-in-law, Rosemary Stenzel, who enjoyed watching their grandchildren play sports.

A cross hangs on a bulletin board at the front of his classroom where he teaches economics and law. It stares across at mounted pictures of the Saints teams that reached the state football finals.

These are more than symbols and decorations for the 25-year head football coach. They serve as reminders of loyalty, family, faith and the love of football that have become the foundation of Xavier’s program.

Schulte and his staff turned those ingredients into a winning recipe once again, guiding the Saints to a 13-0 record and the Class 3A state title. He is honored today as The Gazette’s 2017 high school football coach of the year.

“I will say this about our players,” Schulte said. “They were as dialed in as any group we ever had for that playoff run. They were so coachable, willing to work and do whatever was asked. It was so fun to coach them.”

Xavier capped a perfect season with a 31-13 victory over three-time defending state champion Pella. The Saints averaged 34.7 points a game, allowing just 8.6 to opponents. Xavier amassed 4,083 total yards, including 2,770 on the ground.

“We didn’t know what we had offensively,” said Schulte, whose son, Quinn, was the only offensive starter back and moved from receiver to quarterback. “Defensively, we always feel we’re going to figure something out.

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“We just had a lot of unknowns and tried to figure it out as we went along. By the end of the year we got in a good rhythm.”

Chapter 2:

Family and faith

Family is an important part of Schulte’s life. He has coached all three sons. His oldest, Reggie, led Xavier to consecutive 4A title games in 2012 and 2013, continuing his career at Northern Iowa. Bryce reached the semifinals in two of his final three seasons, graduating after last year and playing at Iowa. Quinn was an all-stater this season, helping his dad become the first Iowa coach to win a 4A and 3A state football title at the same school.

After the title game, Schulte turned to other coaches with sons on the team and encouraged them to soak in the moment.

“A lot of these seniors were a part of that game last year when things didn’t turn out the way we wanted,” Schulte said. “To see all of them jumping around shows how special it was.

“To have Quinn a part of it, kind of made third time a charm as far as sons playing quarterback and winning, that was pretty special.”

Schulte paused when he spoke of his biggest supporters. The 56-year-old coach became visibly emotional when talk turned to his wife, Sherry, and his mother, Jean.

Sherry, a lawyer, has had the unenviable job of coach’s wife for more than a quarter century. She’s seemingly played the role of single mom occasionally when the season occupied much of the head coach’s time. She’s also had to witness her husband and three sons endure the triumphs and failures of the gridiron.

“Without Sherry you wouldn’t be here either,” Schulte said. “I think it was harder on her when our kids were little, but in a way it’s harder on her when her boys and daughter play (sports) because you know how much is invested. She’s been amazing.”

Jean Schulte, 84, is the matriarch of eight children, including five boys. She stressed the importance of faith, making sure they all attended church every weekend.

Football, on the other hand, wasn’t an interest. She often told her sons they watched too much when they huddled around a small television without cable to catch NFL games after Sunday service.

His mother eventually became a fan. She doesn’t miss a game, despite not being able to attend in person. Jean Schulte tunes in for the play-by-play, praying in the same fashion her son’s teams do before each game.

“They got into it and supported us,” Schulte said of his parents. “They went to our games, but it wasn’t until her grandkids started playing that she really got into football and other sports.

“She still is as sharp as a tack mentally, so she listens to every game on the radio. That’s when she says the rosary.”

Chapter 3:

Coaching influences

Schulte has been the only head football coach at Xavier, which opened in 1998. He had served as the Cedar Rapids LaSalle head coach for four seasons before the school merged with Cedar Rapids Regis.

LaSalle introduced Schulte to some special components in his coaching life. He was a sophomore when a 23-year-old Tom Kopatich took over the Lancer program. His fiery demeanor and intensity struck a chord with the sophomore quarterback and his older brother, Jack, in that first summer meeting.

 

“I remember walking out of the meeting and we were both like ‘who is this guy?’ because he was wired during this meeting in the summer,” Schulte said. “As intense as you can believe.”

Kopatich made an immediate impact on Schulte, motivating him to become a coach. He passed his work ethic, drive and love for the game on to Schulte, who would later serve as his assistant at Davenport Assumption.

Kopatich, who led La Salle to consecutive state titles in 1982-83, still is a resource for his protégé. The 1980 graduate has relied on him for strategic advice that has resulted in victories.

The way Kopatich demanded a lot from his players and pushed them to be their best may have been the biggest influence.

“He yelled at me a lot,” Schulte said with a smile. “He didn’t accept mediocrity. He just wanted you to be perfect. He expected perfection.

“Somehow that kind of rubbed off on me. Not only in football, but everything.”

LaSalle also produced one of Schulte’s greatest assets in defensive coordinator Jim O’Connell, who played for the Lancer title teams with Schulte’s brother, Darrel. O’Connell joined Schulte on his first staff in 1994.

 

Schulte was looking for a defensive coordinator when he ran into O’Connell driving in fence posts to set up a local festival. O’Connell, then a junior high basketball coach, agreed to do it.

Schulte praised his entire staff, including his former coach turned colleague, Craig Jelinek. He credited strength and conditioning coaches and those at the sophomore, freshman and middle school levels. He said they have kept the LaSalle and Regis traditions going and now former Saints players have also come on board to carry on the program’s values.

O’Connell has been the one by his side since the beginning.

“Jim O’Connell has been with me for years,” Schulte said. “Now, we have young coaches that played for us. It’s fun.

“When you spend so much time with these guys and you see how hard your assistant coaches work, they’re a big reason you’re here.”

Chapter 4:

What's next?

All the pieces are in place for continued success.

Schulte admitted he used to entertain the idea of resigning when Quinn graduated. He has more of a “year-by-year” and “see what happens” approach.

“I’m still coaching because it’s fun,” Schulte said. “I still enjoying leaving the classroom and going to practice. When it’s not fun all-around then I think that’s when I’ll stop coaching.”

 

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