Pewaukee announces Friske as new football coach
Justin Friske has participated on a number of coaching staffs, as far away as Japan and as local as Sussex Hamilton, but when he takes the reins of the Pewaukee High School football program, there will be one key difference.
“This is a far cry from the situations before where you have to come in and start again, because there are so many good things in place and so many pieces of the puzzle that are already there,” said Friske, 37, who was announced as the successor to Clay Iverson after Monday’s school board meeting. “A real appealing piece to this is that there’s a program that's well on its way, and now I get a chance to come in and put my touch on it. I hope to take Pewaukee football one step further.”
Friske has been the Sussex Hamilton offensive coordinator since 2007, coming off back-to-back years in which his program produced the Greater Metro Conference Offensive Back of the Year with Nick Patterson (1,257 rushing yards) this year and Aaron Clinton-Earl (1,364 yards) in 2010.
Prior to his time there, Friske was head coach at Milwaukee Pius for three seasons, sharing the Classic 8 Conference championship in his final year (2006) with Arrowhead and reaching Level 3 of the playoffs. The native of Mt. Horeb, Wis. plans to move into the Pewaukee district with his wife, Sarah, and two young daughters and teach special education at PHS.
Pewaukee athletics director John Maltsch said his team received 29 applications for the vacancy, created when Iverson accepted the position of Mukwonago head football coach earlier this winter. Maltsch was part of an eight-member panel that interviewed six candidates.
“His presentation, his demeanor, his attitude … he was just all about being a Pirate and doing it the right way,” Maltsch said. “People recognize that this isn’t a program where there’s a lot of rebuilding going on. It’s a spot where the coaches applying felt, ‘Man, this is the next place I want to be.’ It makes you feel good that people want to do that.”
Since arriving in the Milwaukee area in 2004, Friske has been good friends with Iverson.
“Pewaukee has a lot of things you’re looking for as a head coach; it’s a one-school community, and the foundation Clay has built is very strong,” Friske said. “For me, I have a chance to be at a school district with my children, and with the unique nature of the campus, to be located on the same plot of land. It was really appealing for me because I want to be involved in my kids’ education. They can access me when they need to. I just felt like it was a great fit for me professionally, and certainly the football thing was a cherry on top.”
Under Iverson, the Pirates had seven winning seasons, most recently reaching Level 3 of the playoffs and falling to eventual state finalist Wisconsin Lutheran. Both Friske’s old and new programs have been bolstered through the years by the running game.
“This is Wisconsin, man,” Friske said. “If you’re not ready to hunker down in the trenches and get after it for 48 minutes, you probably don’t have the football team you need to sustain at a championship level.”
Friske said making the jump from head coach to assistant when he transferred from Pius and Hamilton was about taking an opportunity to work with Hamilton head coach John Damato and a strong staff of assistants.
“I really think the last eight years of my career have allowed me to develop and solidify my personal philosophy,” Friske said. “I was able to communicate in the interview who I was and what I believe in without having to compromise anything. My situation at Hamilton has been great, so I could go in knowing if it wasn’t a right fit, I could go back to Hamilton, and Pewaukee could get the right person for the job, even if it wasn’t me. Luckily, what I had to say was what they wanted to hear. There was no false pretense … they know who I am.”
Friske played football at Loras College in Iowa and served as a graduate assistant in Albuquerque, N.M. while doing graduate work at the University of New Mexico. He spent nearly two years in Japan teaching English and worked as a quarterbacks coach at Ritsumeikan University in Shiga.
“It was an unbelievably cool experience,” he said. “Football over there is kind of like rugby here; it’s a niche sport, but the people who play it and follow it are fanatical.”
Pewaukee will present new challenges – minus the language barrier.
“I can’t overstate my excitement for the situation,” he said. “It’s bittersweet anytime you make a transition like that because you never get to tell everybody ahead of time (that you’re leaving), and as an educator, we’re in the business of relationships. When you make a move from a place you really enjoy … it’s always hard to say goodbye and start building your relationships. I just feel really confident that this is going to be a great experience. I feel like Pewaukee football is a great opportunity, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
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