‘Glory Days’: Belvidere’s back-to-back state football champions

High School Football

BELVIDERE, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — The glory days for Belvidere High School were in the early to mid-90s. The Bucs won back-to-back state championships in football in 1993 and 1994.

In ’93 they won the 5A title by shutting out undefeated Bolingbrook 7-0. Junior halfback Aaron Latino, running out of the wishbone offense, broke into the secondary for a 27 yard gain on the Bucs’ first drive of the game. Moments later he scored on a 7 yard touchdown run. Who knew then that that first quarter touchdown would be the only score of the game.

The Bucs’ dominant defense, led by linebacker Ron Barr, contained Bolingbrook’s vaunted running attack led by quarterback Greg Williams and speedy running back Corey Day. Barr set a state record with 19 tackles that day.

Other key players on that Belvidere team included Miguel ‘Magoo’ Martinez and his brother Lou Martinez, cousins Adam and Matt CcClenthen and quarterback Jeff Gardner. The Bucs’ won the school’s first state championship in football 7-0.

In 1994 the Bucs played Morris for the class 4A championship. The Bucs had only three returning starters on offnese and only three on defense. One of those was Latino at halfback. He made a spectacular diving touchdown catch on the Bucs’ first possession on a pass from quarterback Rob Ruehl. Fullback Jim Creighton had a big day rushing for 154 yards and three touchdowns. And the defense, again led by Ron Barr at linebacker, came up with another shutout by stopping Morris’ heralded quarterback Quinn Schafer. The Bucs beat Morris 28-0.

Other key players on that Belvidere team who celebrated their second championship included Chuck Leonard, Yul Berg, Brian Horkheimer and Mark Winkels. The head coach of those Belvidere teams was Vern Pottinger. Following is a phone interview conducted with Pottinger on Friday. (Note: Pottinger is retired from coaching and living in Rice Lake, Wisconsin where he coached high school football after leaving Belvidere.

[INTERVIEW WITH VERN POTTINGER]

((SCOTT))
JOINING US NOW IS THE HEAD COACH OF THOSE TWO TEAMS HALL OF FAMER VERN POTTINGER. COACH IF I’M RIGHT THOSE TWO BELVIDERE TEAMS WERE LOOKED UPON AS UNDERDOGS AROUND THE STATE GOING INTO THOSE TWO CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES. IS THAT RIGHT, AND I’M SURE YOU DIDN’T BELIEVE THAT TO BE THE CASE?

((VERN POTTINGER, FORMER BELVIDERE COACH)) “Both years we were really considered big underdogs, but our teams usually got better as the year went along, so it wasn’t surprising to us as coaches that we were capable to win.”

(SCOTT) IT WAS NO SECRET WHAT YOU GUYS WERE GOING TO DO ON OFFENSE. YOU WERE GOING TO RUN THE WISHBONE, KEEP THE CHAINS MOVING AND CONTROL THE CLOCK, YET OPPOSING DEFENSES STILL STRUGGLED WITH YOUR OFFENSE. WHAT ABOUT THE WISHBONE MADE IT SO HARD TO DEFEND?

((POTTINGER)) “Well you have to play really position football, and you can’t gang tackle a lot because you don’t know who’s going to have the football, so that makes it a little tougher. Plus we were no-huddle so we were coming at you pretty fast, so there wasn’t a lot of time to make changes and so on.”

((SCOTT)) WHAT’S AMAZING IS YOU GUYS NOT ONLY WON CHAMPIONSHIPS BACK-TO-BACK, BUT YOU HAD A PRETTY SIGNIFICANT TURNOVER IN YOUR STARTING LINEUP FROM THE ONE YEAR TO THE NEXT. YOU OBVIOUSLY HAD A FEW KEY STARTERS BACK LIKE LATINO AND BARR, BUT NOT MANY. GOING INTO THE SECOND YEAR DID YOU THINK YOU COULD RELOAD AND REPEAT?

((POTTINGER)) “No we really didn’t. We had about 12 kids that didn’t play that second year that could have been. Some of them starters and so on, but for different reasons, ineligibility and whatever. The big one was Robbie Anderson our little nose guard was a wrestler, so he decided not to come out his senior year. He felt the year before if the season hadn’t ended so late that he could have won the state wrestling championship, so he didn’t play football the next year and he did go on to win the state wrestling championsihp.”

((SCOTT)) RON BARR WAS JUST AMAZING AND HE WAS AT HIS BEST IN THOSE BIG GAMES. WHAT TYPE OF ENERGY, CONFIDENCE AND INSPIRATION DID HE BRING TO THE TEAM?

((POTTINGER)) “He just was such a natural. There were times when I would get upset with the coaches on defense because we weren’t going to stunt a lot and he would be making tackles in the backfield, and I would say to them, ‘Why are we stunting?’ and they would say to me, ‘We’re not stunting. He’s just reading the play and getting there that fast.’ He was just a very aggressive player.”

((SCOTT) I WATCHED BOTH CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES AGAIN THIS WEEK AND EVERY CAMERA SHOT THEY SHOWED OF YOU ON THE SIDELINES YOU LOOKED VERY CALM. WAS THAT BECAUSE YOU HAD BEEN TO STATE BEFORE IN 1988 WHEN YOU FINISHED SECOND, AND SO YOU KNEW WHAT THE ENVIRONMENT WAS GOING TO BE LIKE?

((POTTINGER)) “Well that really helped us a lot. It helped our whole staff I think, but for me I always tried to stay calm on the outside because I had to think. If I got too emotional then I was no good as a coach, and you know with our no-huddle offense I always had to be thinking ahead all the time, so I had to stay calm.”

((SCOTT)) DID YOU HAVE ANY SPECIAL PREGAME SPEECHES THAT YOU DELIVERED BEFORE THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES?

((POTTINGER)) “No. I was one of those guys that just felt like it was all very low-key and just, we’re going to do our best. We earned our way here and we’re just going to play the best we can and we always felt like we were very well prepared.”

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