(KMAland) -- The last remaining football team in KMAland had been on the cusp of a season like this for a number of years.
The Audubon Wheelers broke through the glass ceiling at last, advancing to the Class 8-Man championship before falling to Don Bosco in a tight battle. Their success, their journey and the unique way in which they went about that success has landed Sean Birks - their coach - the KMAland Coach of the Year.
This year’s Audubon team was talented, but most of all, they were motivated. Following a 2018 season that ended unceremoniously with a Week 9 loss and a missed spot in the playoffs, the Wheelers were determined to make up for it.
‘“They were the first group to miss the playoffs in six years,” Coach Birks told KMA Sports. “They felt like they let the program down, and as coaches we felt we didn’t do a good enough job. We rallied together to make sure this was one to remember.”
In order to do that, Coach Birks inserted elements of the read option to their offense, decided to run a two-quarterback system with KMAland Offensive Player of the Year and senior Skyler Schultes and sophomore Gavin Smith and often went into a bag of tricks to keep defenses guessing.
“We saw glimpses of (what this team could do) at times last year,” Birks said. “With the nucleus we had coming back and the way we lost our three games (in 2018), our kids knew we were close.”
Interestingly enough, some of the successes in other sports played a role in this year’s football season, according to Birks.
“I think baseball was really big for our kids’ confidence,” he said. “They beat a strong CAM team in district baseball, and the momentum rolled through the summer and into the fall. These kids move from sport to sport to sport and play multiple sports together.”
Audubon’s 12-2 season was hard-earned. They added a Week 0 game with a veteran East Mills team, played state quarterfinalists Remsen, St. Mary’s and Fremont-Mills in their other non-district games and then navigated through the toughest 8-man district in the state.
“We knew we had a tough schedule,” Birks said. “I thought the group was capable of anything in the 9-1 range (in the regular season). We knew it would be tough to run the table, and our guys showed resilience to come up with some really tough victories throughout the year.
“To see the adversity the guys overcame all year long and get to (the state final) was incredible. The district title was hard fought and well-earned. Our kids earned every bit of it. Some years there are districts and schedules where you can chalk up some Ws, but we didn’t really have that. We had to go earn it week in and week out, and our kids did a fabulous job.”
This award is about the Wheelers’ 12-win campaign. It’s about Audubon’s deepest postseason run in 42 years. But it’s also about a seven-year stretch with a 60-16 record and six playoff appearances under Birks as the head or co-head coach.
“We just stayed the course,” Birks added. “You’re always looking to tweak things but never overhaul everything. The senior class grew up watching successful teams and big moments on the field. We knocked on the door a couple times, and the door finally opened for us this year.”
Listen to the complete interview with Coach Birks below.
Previous KMAland Coach of the Year Winners
2018: Jeremy Christiansen, Fremont-Mills (8-Man) & Darrell Frain, Riverside (11-Man)
2017: Donnie Sears, Sidney (8-Man) & Anthony Donahoo, Southwest Valley (11-Man)
2016: Jeremy Christian, Fremont-Mills (8-Man) & Cory Faust, Glenwood (11-Man)
2015: Kreg Lensch, Glidden-Ralston (8-Man) & Cory Faust, Glenwood (11-Man)
2014: Matt Straight, Logan-Magnolia
2013: Tom Petersen, Exira/Elk Horn-Kimballton & Steve Shantz, Nodaway Valley