HARVARD – Fielding Kalas remembered the bus ride that ticked off his head coach.
The year was 1999, and Kalas was a confident offensive lineman for the Harvard Hornets. He and his teammates were on the way to play Stillman Valley, a powerhouse team with a prized college recruit named Pat Babcock.
“On the way in, I had my headphones on, and I was talking smack about the other team, and I was saying it out loud because my headphones were on so high,” Kalas said Friday as he watched his alma mater play Chicago King. “And Coach Haak sat me for the first quarter.”
Message sent. Message received.
“He goes, ‘You ready to go in now?’ ” Kalas said. “I remember pancaking Pat Babcock on the first play. He goes, ‘That’s how you get your head screwed on straight.’ ”
These days, Kalas tells the story with a smile.
It was easy to find smiles Friday among Haak’s former players.
In front of a packed crowd at Dan Horne Field, the Hornets destroyed Chicago King, 56-16, to advance to the IHSA Class 4A quarterfinals. The win pushed Harvard to 11-0, setting a single-season record for victories in Haak’s 29th and final season as head coach.
During the game, Haak focused on the players in front of him. All the while, he knew that former players stood behind him, representing each of the decades under his leadership.
Matt Streit stood along the fence in front of the bleachers, where he was surrounded by several of his former teammates from the class of 2008. Streit was part of the last Hornets team that reached the quarterfinals, and he has not missed a home game this season.
What made Haak a great coach?
“He made me a football player,” said Streit, whose father, Todd, serves as the Hornets’ defensive coordinator. “I went on to play [at Elmhurst College], but I owe most of my career to him and his coaching staff.
“He pushes you. He expects you to give 100 percent effort all of the time, and it reflects on the program. You can see how the kids enjoy it, too. You can see how much effort they give. They respect him, and they give him 100 percent effort.”
Meanwhile, Haak’s former players give 100 percent support.
Earlier this season, former Harvard quarterback Mike Leyden caught a flight from Florida to see the Hornets play. That’s just one of many examples of the bond that continues long after the final down, the final whistle, the final post-game walk out of the locker room.
“It’s always been and always will be our extended family,” said Haak, who has received wedding invitations and baby announcements from his former players. “They come to watch. They support this group. They want them to do well. That’s always rewarding.
“Our guys know they’re there. They come on the road. They come here at home. My son [Shane] drove from Madison. He was on the back-to-back quarterfinal team in ’06 and ’07.
“Those guys come back from the ’80s, they fly in from Florida. I’m telling you, they are loyal. There’s nobody more loyal than some of our former football players.”
Another one of those players is Tyler Streit, Matt Streit’s uncle and part of the class of 1991.
Tyler Streit was part of Harvard’s first team to reach the quarterfinals. He played offensive and defensive line for Haak, who was highly intense and highly intelligent.
Little has changed, Streit said with a smile, other than Haak mellowing a bit.
“I think every Friday night, our game plan is better than the other team’s,” Streit said. “So if we lack a little bit of physical ability that the other team has got, we make up for it.”
And the Hornets win.
No wonder Haak’s players keep coming back.
“He was kind of like Mr. Miyagi,” Kalas said. “He would teach you one thing about the game that would reflect in life about communication and preparation and working hard and showing up on time, all of those things.
“That’s why people come back here who have gone on with their lives. We all come back to support what he believes in and what he teaches us. He teaches you how to be a man – not only how to be a football player, but how to be a man.”
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.