116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Gazette’s 2022 prep football coach of the year had a big game late Thursday afternoon. In another sport, at a totally other level.
Lance Pedersen’s Mount Vernon seventh-grade girls’ basketball team was at Williamsburg to take on the Raiders. You could hear his players chattering in the background while he talked on the phone.
“The season has been going on for about four or five weeks now,” Pedersen said. “I leave the house at 4:50 in the morning and haven’t been getting home until about 8 or 9 at night. Was doing double duty there for a while. But it’s been fun. I’ve got a good group of girls.”
How many guys who lead high school varsity football programs would also coach middle-school basketball? Seriously?
That puts Lance Pedersen on another level. Devoted to educating and coaching kids of both genders in different age groups is pretty danged special.
“I have always told people that coaching is coaching, no matter what level you are at,” Pedersen said. “These girls, they want to win just as bad as my boys, so it’s kind of fun. I enjoy it. It is nice to mix it up.”
Speaking of another level, Pedersen is joined by Iowa City High’s Ben Kueter as this year’s most prestigious honorees. This is the second consecutive year the gifted linebacker-running back has been named the area’s player of the year.
He led City High in tackles with 93.5 in 10 games, which ranks second in Class 5A. His 25.5 tackles for loss ranks third in the class.
The University of Iowa commit also had seven sacks from his linebacker position.
Offensively, Kueter finished second on the team with 510 yards rushing, with eight touchdowns. He also caught 18 passes for 250 yards and three more TDs.
He also threw a touchdown pass.
Kueter is coming off a world freestyle wrestling title late in the summer. He is planning to wrestle and play football (as a linebacker) for the Hawkeyes.
A special athlete doesn’t even being to describe him. Special also is a good description of Pedersen.
⧉ Related article: The Gazette’s 2022 all-area football team
His ninth team at Mount Vernon finished 12-1, losing only to Harlan in the Class 3A state championship game, 30-23. Harlan was a favorite in that game, though it had to come back from a 23-7 deficit in the fourth quarter to win.
Mount Vernon played without all-state quarterback Joey Rhomberg and all-state offensive lineman Clark Younggreen, both out with injuries. But this team had heart and lots of it.
Outsized by its opponent virtually every game, the Mustangs just kept winning and winning and winning. They beat rival Solon twice, once in the regular season and once in the playoffs.
That ended a 19-game losing streak to the Spartans. Mount Vernon didn’t even make the playoffs in 2021, and was this close to winning it all a year later, despite the graduation of its top two offensive weapons — Trenton Pitlik and Owen Brase.
“It’s one of those things that at the start of the season, we write down our own goals, our team goals, our short-term goals, our long-term goals,” Pedersen said. “On the white board we wrote ‘state title.’ Some of the practices in early August, guys were afraid to see it. Over the course of the season, they started to get more and more belief in it ... We were lucky because they all bought in. They were all in all the time. They were there for each other. When somebody messed up, somebody came over and said ‘Hey, it’s all right.’”
The Mustangs did the proverbial leaving-it-all-out-on-the-field in the championship game, but the loss was still bitter.
“For me, it was just gut wrenching. There’s no doubt about it,” Pedersen said. “But at the end of the day, I’m not going to apologize for the way we were able to go 12-1.
“We were the smallest 3A school in the state enrollment wise, and in most games we were probably undersized. But we definitely were not under-coached. And we definitely had the biggest heart. A kid with a big heart can beat a kid with talent if he doesn’t play with a big heart.”
Pedersen, the son of legendary West Branch head coach Butch Pedersen, credited his 14 assistant coaches for all of their help, his administration, his players and their parents. He makes about an hour drive daily from his home in Marengo to Mount Vernon to teach and coach.
Of course, that’s another hour drive on the return. But that’s where his children live, and he’ll make that sacrifice with pleasure.
“You know what? At $3.50 a gallon, that’s tough,” he said. “But when I get home at night and it takes my kids two minutes to come over and see their dad for an hour, the sacrifice is worth it to me. Tonight, when I get home from our basketball game, if (son) Zavier wants to come over and watch Thursday night football, he can do it, and I can drop him home in about two or three minutes. Living where I was prior, that was never an option. I’m willing to drive two hours a day to see my kids.”
He loves his kids. Loves kids, period.
“I have been offered higher-level jobs,” he said. “But I really believe that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. I really believe coaching is coaching, whether it be junior high kids or elementary school kids or high school kids. Whether it be 1A, 3A or 5A, because I love them, I don’t have to be at a high level to be happy.”