Oh yes, there’s a lot on the line at Solon’s Spartan Stadium Friday night.
The Mount Vernon-Solon football game is for sole possession of first place in Class 2A District 6. Both teams are ranked, yes. But it’s more.
It’s the long rivalry of towns 10 miles apart on Highway 1. It’s Mount Vernon trying to snap a 17-game losing streak to the Spartans. It will bring a 5-0 Mustangs team to town, one representing a program with three state championships and nine title-game appearances in its history. Solon, meanwhile, has five state crowns and five runner-up finishes.
In the midst of it are two men who are coming together yet again, longtime friends, and former teammates in high school and the NFL.
Aaron Kampman is in his ninth year as a Solon defensive coach. He played at Iowa before spending 10 seasons as an NFL defensive end with 58 career sacks and two Pro Bowl appearances in a 123-game career.
Brad Meester is in his third year coaching Mount Vernon’s offensive line, and is the team’s running game coordinator. He played at Northern Iowa before spending 14 seasons and started 209 games at center for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
The two played together at Aplington-Parkersburg High under Ed Thomas. That’s why they’re coaching now.
“Coach Thomas influenced my life and made an impact on the way I see the world,” Kampman said. “It seems pretty fitting to be coaching myself and try to be effective at affecting young men’s character.”
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“I wanted to have the opportunity to give back,” Meester said. “I played for a lot of great coaches growing up and I can’t say enough great things about Coach Thomas, the life lessons of hard work, pride and teamwork, making us better people.”
Kampman and Meester were reunited when Kampman signed with Jacksonville as a free agent in 2010 after playing his first eight pro seasons with the Green Bay Packers.
“His wife, Jamie, and I are cousins,” Kampman said. “My wife, Linde, and Jamie graduated in the same class. Our families went to the same church. When I signed with Jacksonville, Jamie stocked our home there and had it ready to go for us.”
“It’s kind of crazy how things worked out,” said Meester. “It’s such a small world. When we played together at Jacksonville I distinctly remember us talking about what we might do after football. We both said we were moving back to Iowa.
“I actually had bought a place outside Mount Vernon on Highway 1. He bought his place outside Solon around the same time. We live 10 minutes apart.”
Meester is 43, Kampman 40. Meester has six daughters. The oldest is a college freshman, the youngest a 6-year-old. Kampman has a daughter and three sons, the oldest a junior on Solon’s football team.
Kampman is the CEO of a leadership-development company called Align, which works with companies, organizations and individuals.
“I don’t have a true profession,” Meester said, “but I did go back to school. Motorcycle school.”
He learned how to repair Harley-Davidsons.
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“I wanted to be able to do stuff like that,” he said. “I’m not going to open a full-time shop, but I have a shed where I restore old bikes and a few other things. Now I’m rebuilding an old International Scout.”
The coaching isn’t something either will be giving up anytime soon.
“Brad does a great job with the kids on the offensive line,” said Mount Vernon head coach Lance Pedersen. “This is a passion for him.”
“I do absolutely love it,” Meester said. “This isn’t about X’s and O’s. It’s about making an impact on somebody’s life.”
“There’s nothing like it,” said Kampman. “Friday nights are always pretty special opportunities for young men in their communities to come together.”
Kampman and Meester have played at the highest level of football, have played with and against the best of the best. Here they are coaching where they came from, basically, in small-town Iowa. Mount Vernon and Solon.
Said Meester: “I wouldn’t trade this for the world.”
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