HOISINGTON — Talking with former Hoisington High School football players who played for head coach Lonnie Irvin, they all seem to agree that he was a calm, strong influence on Friday nights.
Irvin, who was the head football coach for the Cardinals from 1997 to 2010, died on Thursday.
He helped manufacture a series of playoff runs for the Cardinals from 2005 to 2009.
“When something was wrong, he never got too worked up,” said Michael Richards, who graduated in 2010, and played in the 2009 season that saw Hoisington finish 9-2 after falling to Scott City in the postseason.
“He was never too harsh, no yelling at all. Just really calm. I really think that was part of his success. The kids really listened to him that way. They got more out of it.”
Another part of Irvin’s success was his offensive system.
“Lonnie inherited a good program from Dave Webb, who took over the football program and really put it on solid footing,” said Dan Schmidt, who was Irvin’s assistant coach for his entire stint with Hoisington. “We had some success with the offensive system in place, but it was something that was very established.
“Everyone was running that system. Lonnie was the first person to stand up and say we needed a change on offense.”
That change was the double wing system.
“We called it the double wing, others call it the rock creek system,” Schmidt said. “It was different from other high school systems. It was unique.
“There were some criticisms that we didn’t throw the ball enough, but once the system really got established in about 2005, we just started to win.”
In the span from 2005 to 2009, the Irvin-led Cardinals were 43-10.
“I was there in 2007 when we went deep into the postseason before we lost to Garden Plain,” Richards said. “In 2009, we were in the postseason again and lost to Scott City.
“Getting to play another day. He always told us come districts, it’s a whole other season. Win or go home, and it was a lot of fun winning.”
When Irvin took the helm of the Cardinals from Webb in 1997, he didn’t make many changes.
“I was part of his first senior class,” said Dustin Demel, who was the starting quarterback for Irvin in 1997. “He didn’t change much from the previous years. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
“He created a family environment. Everyone got treated the same way from quarterback to manager. That was his thing.”
As Irvin’s starting quarterback, Demel spent a lot of time working with the head coach, who was also the quarterback coach.
“We went over all kinds of fundamentals,” Demel said. “What I remember was he and I would sit down to watch film. The talks we had were always very focused on the plan.
“He used to find me earlier in the day before the game, and he would tell me the first play we’d run that night so I could think about it all day.”
Demel also mentioned Irvin’s care when it came to his players advancing to the next level.
“He helped me when I went on to play in college,” Demel said. “I knew that if I had a question, I could ask him. I mean, he read at my wedding. That’s how much I respected Lonnie.”
Demel went on to start at Hutchinson Community College and at Fort Hays State University.
“I was a starter for Hutch and Fort Hays State,” Demel said. “I was the backup quarterback for Shaun Hill, the quarterback who played for San Francisco (and now with the Detroit Lions), at Hutch. I started both years at Fort Hays.”
Even after Irvin stepped back from coaching after the 2010 season, he still wanted to help his players move up the ladder.
“Here’s a story,” Demel said. “A while back, he called me up and asked if I still had contact with the coaches at Hutchinson. I told him I did. He asked me to call them and see if I could help get Brady Moore recruited.
“That’s the type of person he was. Even after he wasn’t coaching anymore, he still cared about his players. I’m going to miss the heck out of him.”