For the first time in years, the Pewaukee football team played Arrowhead this year, meeting the Warhawks in a nonconference season opener.
Clay Iverson didn’t know it at the time, but it was a matchup he’d need to get used to. The Warhawks just became his No. 1 rival.
Following approval from the Mukwonago School Board on Monday, the school hired Iverson to become its new football coach, replacing Bill Schulte, who was relieved from his duties following the 2011 season.
Iverson, who spent seven years with the Pirates, compiled a 57-19 record during his time there, taking over a program that had gone 2-7 in 2004 and rehabilitating it immediately. Both his 2008 and 2009 teams entered the playoffs undefeated, with the latter falling to eventual Division 3 state champion Reedsburg in a Level 2 nail-biter.
The Pirates have fallen to a state finalist in the playoffs in each of the past three years, including a 14-13 loss to Classic 8 foe Catholic Memorial in Level 1 of the 2010 playoffs. Pewaukee bounced back to top CMH in this year’s first round, then topped unbeaten Kewaskum in Level 2.
"There’re some wins and some titles that I’m very proud of, but (I’m most proud of) the family atmosphere and the character in our young men," Iverson said. "We took a program that had five or six code violations and suspensions in one year, and in seven years, I don’t think we had that total. It was a change in culture. We won four conference titles in seven years and did it in three different leagues. It’s the young men that I was fortunate to coach; I’ll look back on them the fondest."
Iverson, 35, said he anticipates the same family atmosphere in Mukwonago, and he already has some first hand experience. Wife Emily is a business teacher at the high school, and 6-year-old son Calvin attends Rolling Hills Elementary School. The family, which currently resides in Waukesha, also includes 3-year-old Cory.
"I heard about the opening and we were in the playoffs still," he said. "Obviously it caught my attention, but it was nothing I moved on until the season was over. It was on my radar for a while. Any job in the Classic 8 is an attractive job, but especially in Mukwonago because my wife is teaching there. They had their ducks in a row and they handled things very professionally, and they definitely had a really thorough yet very efficient process."
Iverson will also teach business in the district. The former defensive lineman and linebacker with New Berlin Eisenhower and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has always been aware of Mukwonago’s football tradition.
"I have so much respect for that program," he said. "I went to college with two all state players from Mukwonago and heard them tell stories about coach (Keith) Hensler and the battles they had against Arrowhead and teams like that. When I came back here and got into coaching, Mukwonago has always been there as a way to do things. When I wrote my cover letter, it gave me goose bumps to think I was even applying for that job."
Among the players Iverson has coached is J.J. Watt, who later played at the University of Wisconsin and became the 11th overall selection in the NFL Draft this past April by the Houston Texans. Younger brother Derek Watt is also a part of the UW football program.
Iverson expressed admiration for the work done by Schulte, as well as the established youth program that has helped foster the longstanding use of the "power option" offense.
"I’ve done some things that have been successful for me, and there are a lot of good systems -- it comes down to the kids over the system," he said. "What we do on offense, we’ll hopefully be multiple like we’ve always been (at Pewaukee). But I don’t think you go into a place like Mukwonago and start turning over every cart, because there’s a lot of good things that are there."
He said he hoped to blend coaches he had worked with in the past along with coaches already in the Mukwonago system to cultivate the best staff possible.
"The goal of high-school football is to produce young men for life, not making a living blocking and tackling," Iverson said. "You need to get guys that can do that. We’ll definitely run a character-based program just like they’ve always had at Mukwonago and I’ve always had at Pewaukee.
"I know it’s a lot of work, but I really want to make sure the Mukwonago community is proud of what they see on Friday nights. We’ll work like crazy."
Pictured: Clay Iverson coaches Pewaukee's football team during Level 3 of the WIAA playoffs in November (Photo by Scott Ash)