WOODBURRY ROYALS: Minnesota Class 5A State Champs
Championship people, make Championship players, who in turn make up Championship teams.
By Andy Hill, Woodbury Quarterback Coach
Published: Spring 1999
The cafeteria was filled with eager anticipation as the young men who would make up the 1998 Woodbury Royals football team awaited the opening of the auditorium doors. As the coaching staff made their way through the waves of royal blue and white shirts, the players quieted and the doors of the auditorium were opened. One by one each young man entered the auditorium and found his appropriate seat. While finding their seat, the players were greeted only by an empty stage that consisted of an overhead projector and a screen with a simple welcome: “Welcome to Woodbury Football, Home of the 1998 Class 5A State Champions.” A simple message, yet one that reached deep into the hearts of each individual. To achieve Minnesota high school football's highest crown, to live a childhood dream, the Royals needed to “lock in” and focus on what it truly takes to become a champion.
“Championship people make championship players, who in turn make up championship teams,” proclaimed head coach Gary Halvorson
For the course of two-a-day practices at Woodbury High School, Coach Halvorson ends the first 45 minutes of each morning practice session not on the football field teaching techniques, but rather in the auditorium developing athletes into championship people. He speaks on various topics over the course of two weeks, but the underlying theme in most of his stories and talks is the importance of goals, believing in yourself, and focusing in on becoming the person you need to be to obtain your goals. Along with the 45-minute sessions in the hot August two-a-days, Coach Hal, as he is known to many of his players, spends five minutes every afternoon speaking to his team about similar topics before they take the practice field.
Yet despite all of his teaching and speaking, his words would be meaningless if his players did not see their coach display the very values he preached. Coach Hal is a living example of the philosophy he preaches: Royal Pride. Upon finding the usefulness of a daily planner in his own life, he requires each of his players to not only keep, but to turn in on a weekly basis, a daily planner of his own.
“Players who have not turned in their planner as of Friday are not allowed to dress for the game that night,” states Coach Halvorson. “Organized people are more successful people. Organization in sports, the classroom, and everyday life, will lead individuals to better focus on their goals and the actions they need to take in order to obtain them.”
While the Royal Pride philosophy empowers the individual players, and the team as a whole, to focus in on their goals, it is much more than a philosophy to achieve athletic goals. Royal Pride stresses the importance of becoming a championship person - all other goals are built upon the foundation set by this standard. Michael Jackson's song, “Man in the Mirror” has been the Royals' motivating anthem over the past three seasons. This song, much like the principles of Royal Pride, focuses on the importance of taking that first step of addressing the man in the mirror and changing yourself for the better.
“Coach Hal has taught us about principles such as persistence, determination, enthusiasm, dedication, and attitude, which is really what Royal Pride is,” states senior Andrew Hilliard. “Royal Pride has made the biggest impact in my high school career. It has helped me not only on the football field, basketball court, and the track, but also in the classroom”
Hilliard, a three sport letter winner, is currently the number two student academically in his class of over 400. He plans to participate in the decathlon in college track as well as football.
The work ethic that Royal Pride emits is one of doing your best at all times, while never taking your focus off of your goals. Woodbury Royal football players spend countless hours working out with the Bigger Faster Stronger program both during the off season and in-season. The determination of these individuals, as they are becoming championship people, leads to not only tireless work in the weight room, but also diligent plyometric and speed improvement workouts. While many might attribute the Royals' on-field success to God-given ability, the blood and sweat that was spent working out through the BFS program proved to be a price well worth paying by the end of the season. With every defensive starter, including linemen, running the 40 yard dash in under 5.0 seconds (4.923 was the slowest), opponents could not prepare for, nor adjust to, the speed of the Royals.
The physical attributes, through hours of hard work, of the Royals was beneficial, but the focus on detail is what set this Woodbury team apart from any of its predecessors. Coaches would often be heard using the phrases “lock in” and “be coachable” instead of boisterous clamors of approval or disapproval. Swearing is prohibited on the practice field. Coaches and players who fail to adhere to this rule are required to remove themselves from the field for the rest of the practice. The saying, “Practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent,” is posted in the locker room every fall. Coaches focus in on teaching the smallest details, and players focus in on learning their techniques to perfection. The amount of attention paid to detail, coupled with the ever-present focusing on the ultimate goal, made the Woodbury Royal football players develop into championship players.
With the foundation that championship people make up championship players, the Royals successfully acquired the necessary ingredients to become a championship team. Picked to finish fourth in their conference in 1998 by the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Royals felt as though they wanted to earn respect across the state. However, the respect the Royals sought was not of the superficial kind that so many professional athletes rant and rave about - the Royals believed that they were the best team in the state of Minnesota and they were focused on winning the championship and earning the respect of all.
Woodbury opened the season with a school record seven straight wins. Coincidentally, the eighth game of the season was against conference rival Hastings High School who was also 7-0 entering the game. The game, to be played on Woodbury's home field for the St. Paul Suburban Conference Championship, was host to nearly 6,000 fans, as well as every television station and newspaper in the Twin Cities area. The Royals opened the game confidently focused on their goal of winning the schools first ever outright conference championship and claiming the number one seed as they headed into sectional play. The Royals defense held Hastings to a single first down in the first half of play, while the offense scored on three prolonged drives, to take a 21-0 lead into half time. The Royals locker room was filled with excited, confident players. On their first three possessions of the second half, the Hastings Raiders scored every time and tied the game at 21-21. The Royals had temporarily lost their focus, but managed to put together what seemed to be the game winning drive, scoring a touchdown with just under two minutes remaining. After missing the extra point, the Royals promptly squashed all of the Raiders pass attempts. However, with 7.6 seconds remaining in the game, the Royals saw their conference championship dreams dashed to pieces as a hail mary pass landed in the hands of the Hastings receiver. The extra point put the Raiders up by a single point, a margin good enough to give them the conference championship. Royal players and coaches were stunned by the loss, but what could have been the pin that popped the Royals championship balloon proved to be the enzyme to further the championship dream.
Some called the loss a reality check, but the Woodbury Royal players and coaches decided to use what is now referred to as the “first Hastings game” as a point of refocusing. Upon entering the sectional playoffs,