They’ve been the bridge in Omaha North’s unprecedented football success.
The eight senior starters for the Vikings were on a freshman team that won three games. Some of them were on the 2011 varsity that went 3-6.
They stuck with the program. On Tuesday night at Memorial Stadium, they will be part of the first Omaha Public Schools team to be in the Class A state championship game in back-to-back years.
“That’s a good accomplishment,” said Elijah Hawkins, a co-captain. “We never knew that.”
Hawkins, JaVaughn Perkins, Quentin King, Mark Nelson, JaCobi Jones, Collin Weingaertner, Adam Steinspring and Tristian Frezell, plus 14 reserves, will play their final high school game with hopes of giving North its first state playoff championship.
“They’ve been a good class. Blue-collar, hard workers. Not a lot of them,” North coach Larry Martin said. “What I’ve been impressed with is their work ethic through the years in the program. They stuck with the plan.
“One of the things we talk about to the kids is to be competitive as freshmen and if they stick with and work hard they can have a good senior year.”
Martin, like Hawkins, said the Vikings had been unaware that they were making history for an OPS school with their appearance in Tuesday’s 7:15 p.m. final against Omaha Westside.
Central, which won in 1984 and 2007, is the only OPS school with a Class A state playoff title. Benson (1994), Burke (1980, 1984, 2011) and Northwest (1981) also have been to the finals.
Most of North’s senior starters are on defense. The bulk of the Vikings’ lineup consists of juniors, topped by running back Calvin Strong and offensive left guard Michael Decker. Both are regarded as major-college prospects.
“We have a highly engaged junior class in terms of talent and sometimes that can present some issues,” Martin said. “(The seniors) have been very embracing of what we have to do.
Hawkins indicated there’s no resentment toward the younger players. In fact, they’ve helped the team bond.
“It’s taken a lot of leadership, not only from the seniors but the juniors like Calvin Strong, Jason Martin,” Hawkins said. “It takes a lot of leadership to get back to where we were at.”
Last year’s seniors, he said, got things going.
“They taught us a lot. They sent this program back to where it was at and we just followed it. They said no more skipping out on summer conditioning, no more not working hard in the weight room,” Hawkins said. “The leadership they showed us, I bought into it. Everybody else bought into it. They really set the foundation for what we’re doing now.
Perkins, another co-captain, said North’s players have shown more commitment toward football
“We have a better understanding, a better IQ of how the team plays, everybody doing their own job,” he said. “Our leaders we had last year were a good group. We saw how they led the team and have tried to pick up what they did last year to lead the team.”
North wants to win, Hawkins and Perkins said, for the community — “Last year we know we let them down,” Perkins said — and for last year’s seniors.
“We have to get this one,” Hawkins said. “We’re happy we got back here, so now we have to get the job done. No letdowns, be prepared.
“I think we can get it. Westside is a good team, but I think we can get them.”