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The Front Row with MARK NELKE November 21, 2010

| November 21, 2010 8:00 PM

When Shawn Amos took over the Coeur d'Alene High football program in 1997, the Vikings were coming off a two-season stretch where they lost 12 of 18 games.

And in his first two seasons at Coeur d'Alene, Amos went 1-8 and 1-8 - this after leaving Kellogg High after two seasons and an 11-5-1 record to take over the Viking program.

But Coeur d'Alene went 5-5 in his third season, then reached the state playoffs in his fourth year, 2000 - for the first time since 1994.

Four years later, the Vikings played for a state title and Friday night at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, six years after that, Coeur d'Alene finally made it all the way back to the top. The Vikings beat Centennial 28-7 in the state 5A championship game for Coeur d'Alene's first state title in football since 1985, and third title overall.

"It's a process; mainly ups and downs throughout," said Amos, a Moscow High grad. "The guys that stayed with us; there's a certain group of people who never wavered, including my coaching staff. That's hard to come by."

MUCH OF the current coaching staff has been together for years. Two of them - Ron Nelson and Matt House - were on Amos' first staff in 1997.

The Vikings nearly reached the top in 2004, but lost 41-35 to Twin Falls in the state title game at Holt Arena in Pocatello.

A pair of 7-3 seasons, concluded by first-round losses in the state playoffs to city rival Lake City, followed. Then came a couple of 3-6 campaigns, followed by some head scratching.

Coeur d'Alene made it all the way to the state semifinals last season, losing in the snow at home to eventual state champion Eagle. And with most of those starters returning, prospects looked bright for the Vikings entering this season.

Then after their third game of this season, they learned that a pair of former Viking athletes — Coeur d’Alene High grads this past June — had been killed in a car accident outside Twin Falls.

That hit the Viking “family” harder than any 3-6 season could. Their memory motivated the Vikings the rest of the way.

Coeur d’Alene never lost another game after that night, finishing the season with an eight-game winning streak.

“That makes seasons even more special,” Amos said after the game Friday. “When you lose a couple Vikings, it gives you a reality check and makes you understand why this is important. Last night we had our Thursday hug session that we always have with our team. Our seniors, they talked a lot about family and a lot about what we do for them as a family — not so much about football. That means a lot to us.”

And it means a lot in Coeur d’Alene, where the football programs at the two largest high schools — one more than 100 years old, the other less than 20 — are often compared. And when the newer school on the other side of U.S. 95 has been in the playoffs every season since 1997, and has been in four state title games in the past 12 seasons and won two of them, and when there was a stretch where they beat you 18 out of 20 times, and your team hadn’t won on their field since 1995 ... well, you probably get a little tired of hearing about it.

But to the credit of Amos and the rest of the Viking coaches, they kept working, kept plugging along, kept “chopping wood,” as Amos called it. An Amos-coached Coeur d’Alene squad finally broke through and won a game on Lake City’s field last fall, and the Vikings currently own a three-game winning streak over the Timberwolves.

Whether any of that really matters in Vikingland is up for debate — perhaps the Viking “family” is actually more important than wins or losses in the big picture.

But one thing’s for certain — the smiles, the hugs, the joy displayed on the Kibbie Dome carpet after the championship game Friday night were indeed genuine, and a long time coming.

“This is huge for him,” Coeur d’Alene senior running back/linebacker Zach Keiser said of Amos. “This win is for coach Amos and all the coaches. We haven’t won in 25 years, and it was about time we got one.”

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via e-mail at mnelke@cdapress.com.

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