Community fully behind Patriot FootballAugust 18, 2021
By COREY STOLZENBACH
Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of stories this week on the 50th season of Heritage Hills Football.
It’s a small school out in the country in an unincorporated place known as Lincoln City. But here on Friday nights, members of the community flock in droves to see Heritage Hills play at The Jungle. The Patriots, docked out in their dark blue uniforms and predominantly red helmets take the field, as “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses blares, and these high schoolers play four quarters on the gridiron before a very passionate fan base.
“They understand that the community is really behind them,” said offensive and defensive line coach Stan Jochim. “They’re an important group of young men in the community.”
The program isn’t just important to the community, but it also shapes others within the community and teaches lessons that they carry with them when they go onto bigger things.
“I think the biggest things were the discipline and the character, just staying focused on the goals at hand — being a team player, being willing to push everybody,” said Jon Goldsberry, a 2000 graduate who later made it onto NFL rosters. “You’re not always going to be everybody’s best friend, but you got to push them to the limit to get where you want to go. And the ones don’t usually aren’t the rowing the boat in the same direction anyway.”
Adam Zollman is the strength and conditioning coach for Heritage Hills, and he knows what Friday nights are all about in the community. He sees a majority of the town in the bleachers watching the game. Zollman has played a part in that by working with members of the team, with the expectation of getting into the weight room.
The fans in the stands get to see the players reap the fruits of their labor right before their own eyes.
“If it’s a home game on a Friday night, they’re going to be here,” Zollman said. “They might even sit in the parking lot and look through their windshield if they’re not allowed in. It’s just a tradition that everybody around here is a part of.”
Adam Knies is a 2010 Jasper graduate who coaches wide receivers and tight ends for the Pats. There’s a high standard, Knies said. Heritage Hills expects to win on the field, in practice, in the classroom and in the weight room.
“You take pride in what you do,” Knies said. “You’ve got a community watching you. You’ve got a community backing you. Those kids do buy into that. The coaching staff is trying to get the kids to understand that even if you’re a freshman playing on Thursday nights, there are still people that have graduated from many years that still follow it.”
The program has come away with 13 sectional championships, 10 regional championships, three semi-state championships and the big prize, the Class 3A State Crown in 2000. Heritage Hills had something of a golden era in the early through the mid-2000s, when it reeled off six consecutive undefeated regular seasons from 1999 through 2004, and six straight regional championships from 2000 through 2005.
“(The community is) expecting you to go out and do your job and do it well at a high level,” said defensive coordinator Kevin Tempel, a 2004 graduate. “Not to say that winning was the only thing, but it was definitely expected.”
Head coach Todd Wilkerson knows what this program is all about. The 1988 Heritage Hills graduate has been at the program at every level, and losing seasons are not unheard of, but certainly not common around these parts. Football is Wilkerson’s life, and in immersing himself with his alma mater, he’s part of a tradition that never graduates.
The 2020 season was a serious challenge, when the Pats had a rare losing campaign, but Wilkerson has seen it all unfold, be it as a middle school coach, the frosh coach, an assistant or being the head coach for a semi-state champion in his own right in 2019. He knows being a state champion is possible, but it’s work that must be put into for several years, starting in middle school.
“We know what it takes to get to the state championship,” Wilkerson said. “We know what it takes to win a state championship. It’s not some obscure dream that never comes true for our community.”
The 50th season is set to officially be underway Friday at Mt. Vernon, but it won’t be long before the community shows out for the team’s scheduled games Aug. 27 against Tell City and Sept. 3 against Boonville in what is known as The Jungle.
Regardless of where the Pats are playing, the players, the coaches and the community want that win at the end of the night.
“If you go play Friday nights, the community expects you to win,” said Adam Kress, a 2001 graduate and the team’s Mental Attitude Award recipient in 2000. “It’s just the mentality, the tradition and everything that we’ve come to just expect.
“Not that they hate you if you don’t win, but it’s just like, ‘Hey, this is what we do here,’ ” Kress continued. “We’re not some other team that just goes out and has fun and says they played football in high school. We’re expected to do good things.”
Former Herald sportswriter Jimmy Lafakis contributed to this story.
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