College Football

By Don Dreger Record-Courier assistant sports edit Published:

The march up the mountain is often long and arduous.

But was the climb worth all the sacrifices?

That was just one of the questions posed to Jim Purtill in his first year as head football coach at St. Norbert's College in Wisconsin.

Who and where you say.

First, Purtill is a former Kent resident, graduating from Kent Roosevelt High School. His deceased father, Jim Purtill was a noted attorney in Kent. His mother, Jean Wenrich, still lives in Kent with her husband Bob, as does his sister, Carlene Lostoski.

Just where is St. Norbert College?

It is a Division III school located in the town of De Pere (20,000), which is five miles west of Green Bay. St. Norbert, a liberal arts college of 2,000 established in 1898, was founded by the Norbertine monks and has an abbey adjacent to the campus. The Green Knights have an 8-0 record in the Midwest Conference and an 8-1 mark overall, losing 24-14 to Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Although St. Norbert hasn't broken into Division III's Top 25, it has gotten votes. Obviously, a good marriage between coach and a college.

Purtill, a 1978 graduate of Miami (Ohio), majored in social studies and education. He added a master in physical education at Salem College.

It was the summer after student teaching that a volunteer position opened on the football staff and he took it.

"I thought I would get football coaching out of my blood in a year," said Purtill. "My dad had played in college and I was always around football. But I was small (5-foot-9, 135 pounds) and only made second string at Roosevelt under Dave Grosse.

"As it turns outs, I'm still at it. The more I coached, the more I got into it."

Kent Roosevelt athletic director John Nemec remembers Purtill well.

"He worked for us as a volunteer assistant," said Nemec, who talked Purtill into volunteering. "I could tell he was a student of the game and would make an outstanding coach. I'm not surprised at his success. He has done his homework.

"When I've had an offensive problem, he is one of the first people I call. No question he knows his football."

After his stint at Roosevelt, Purtill went on to coach at Toledo, Salem College, Cornell, Ferris State and Albion College, where he earned Division III Offensive Coordinator of the Year honors in '96.

The major turning point in his decision to be a coach may have come after coaching the seventh grade at Kent.

Purtill went to Brigham Young University for spring football practice and worked as a volunteer under LaVell Edwards, one of the great offensive minds in college football. Then he went to Seattle to visit the Don James family and found out that spring football practice at Washington had just started there. Another volunteer situation was approved and he expanded his knowledge at the knee of one of the greats.

"I had some interesting coaching experiences," said Purtill. "Salem was a disaster. They fired everyone from the president to most of the coaching staff and I ended up as the interim coach to finish the season out.

"But I had the good fortune to work with Maxie Vaughn at Cornell. Vaughn played pro football as a member of the Eagles, Rams and the over-the-hill gang with the Redskins.

"We had several ex-NFL players on the coaching staff," said Purtill. "It was a good learning experience."

Laing Kennedy, present athletic director at Kent State, remembers Purtill at Cornell.

"You could tell he was a student of the game even then," said Kennedy. "I'm not surprised with his success. I'm sure he will step up higher."

During his last game at Albion in 1998, the Britons gave Mount Union one of its toughest games on its way to the national championship. The Purple Raiders eked out a 21-19 win after the Britons scored two touchdowns in the last nine minutes and missed a 34-yard field goal with 22 seconds left in the game.

Purtill is known for being an offensive coach. He believes in a balanced attack, running the ball 40 times a game and passing 30 times. He is piling up the points at St. Norbert, averaging 36 points a game.

In the seventh game of this season against Grinnell, the Green Knights were losing 31-9 in the third period. St. Norbert made a run, tying the game at 37-37 and sending it into overtime. It was just the edge that Purtill needed as St. Norbert won 43-40. In last week's game, St. Norbert drilled Beloit 35-10.

"I inherited a good group of seniors," said Purtill, whose defensive coordinator is Ted Monken, a former graduate assistant at Kent State. "They have responded well to a new system and new coaching staff. Now we have to recruit more players to get more numbers. All the good programs have over a 100 players and we have 75. Most of our players come from Wisconsin."

If the Green Knights can win their last game Saturday at Illinois College, they will earn an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III playoffs. It will be the school's first appearance since 1989.

And Purtill will be a big reason why.

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