Football: Naatz to lean on physicality as Hawley aims to take another step in program rebuild

Hawley head coach Peder Naatz has coached nine teams to the state tournament in his 23 years at the helm. However, after a string of down seasons, the Nuggets are working towards getting back to the top of Section 8-2A.

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The Hawley football team practices during the second week of fall camp on Aug. 24, 2022 at Hawley High School.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

HAWLEY – Peder Naatz has taken the Hawley football team to state nine times since 2001. But after a stretch of down years, he's navigating his team back to the top of the Section 8-2A field.

The Nuggets are coming off a 5-5 season and a loss 24-13 in the second round of the section playoffs against Pelican Rapids. Hawley, who earned the third seed in the six-team field, is looking to take another step forward this fall.

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The Hawley football team practices during the second week of fall camp on Aug. 24, 2022 at Hawley High School.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"We need to get back to the way we were," Naatz said. "We were solid for a really long time and dropped off. We have a lot of talent on a loaded team. We're not super deep, but we can go two deep at a few of the linemen spots. Last year, we lost to Osakis, West Central Area and Barnesville by six or eight points each. The only place we really got pasted at was (Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton). They shut us out 21-0. We got a meat grinder of a schedule. There's no doubt about that."

The Nuggets have another loaded schedule ahead of them, taking on Barnesville, DGF and the two Section 6-2A powers in Osakis and West Central Area. Three of those teams won section titles last year, while Osakis finished as a runner-up. Hearing chatter from teams like Barnesville and DGF about state tournament hopes has given Hawley some bulletin board material.

Especially with the group of kids coming back, they absolutely feel like they have a chip on their shoulder," Naatz said. "That's the nature of the beast when you have a lot of kids coming back. When you have certain things, you can do certain things. When you don't have them, it doesn't make you a bad football team, but it limits what you can do. But when you hear what the towns 12 miles away and a town 20 miles away says about competing for a state championship. Yes, it bothers them."


Naatz will lean on his strengths at running back and in the trenches on defense.

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The Hawley football team practices during the second week of fall camp on Aug. 24, 2022 at Hawley High School.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"Our running backs and our defensive line are really good," he said. "We moved a big kid up to end from linebacker. We're almost two deep in our four defensive linemen. Our best strength is our backfield. We've got a fullback that's 235-pounds at 6-feet, 3-inches. One tailback is 6-feet, 1-inch at 211-pounds. Another is 6-feet, 2-inches, 211-pounds. The other is 5-feet, 9-inches, 180-pounds. They all have speed, and they all move laterally."

"That's the best kind of football, ain't it?" Naatz said when asked about playing a physical brand of football. "We'll mix some passes in there to keep them on their toes and keep them guessing. We're going to ground and pound, loosen them up in the air and then get them in the ground game again."

Hawley opens the season at home against Pillager, another traditional 6-2A power trying to find its way back to the top.

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The Hawley football team practices during the second week of fall camp on Aug. 24, 2022 at Hawley High School.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"We need to do a good job of completing our assignments," Naatz said. "We're not going to win every individual battle. We're not going to hit every single block. But if we're going to the right place and getting everybody to the right area, that will be a plus. Football is a game of mistakes and miscues. If you win the turnover and penalty battle, and you get to the right place at the right time, good things will happen."

Since Hawley's last state tournament appearance in 2014, Naatz learned how to make adjustments on and off the field when it comes to his engagement with players.

"We've evolved tremendously in the 23 years I've been the head coach," Naatz said. "Three of these (assistant coaches) have been with me the whole time. If you evolve slowly and the kids keep coming, it's seamless. When talent takes a dip, it's not anybody's fault. It's just something you have to deal with. We were on a high for a long time, and it all dropped on us. We went to the absolute bottom. We're working our way back up now, and I like where we're at in that journey of working our way to the top."

One reason Naatz believes Hawley is back on the rise is the initiative this new wave of Nuggets has taken in the weight room. He feels like this senior class is returning to the roots of what made Hawley football revered in the past.


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Hawley head coach Peder Naatz coaches the Nuggets on Aug. 24, 2022 at Hawley High School. Naatz has coached the Nuggets for 23 seasons.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"They've been great examples of work ethic," Naatz said. "They've put in the time in the offseason while they still do stuff like play basketball, and their presence there attracts more kids to be there on their own. That's where we dropped off for a couple of years. We lost that intrinsic weight room desire. It can be coached, but when the kids take ownership in being in the weight room, the sky's the limit."

Longevity has become a rarity for high school coaches. Naatz is one of the few left of a dying breed. Although his legacy is permanently stamped onto the Nuggets' legacy, he wants to ensure he hangs up the clipboard at the right time.

"I'm becoming a bit of a dinosaur," Naatz said. "This is what keeps me out there–the kids that want to get better and the kids that want to work. I got out of track two years ago, and I really enjoyed my free time in the spring. But fall is football, and football is life. Being around the kids keeps me young, and I act way younger than I am. The kids will let me know when it's time to be done. They won't respond, and it won't be the same rapport. If the kids know before you do, you've stayed too long. Hopefully, when it's time to move away, it will be set up, and the cupboard won't be bare."


Sept. 2 vs. Pillager, 6 p.m.

Sept. 9 at Osakis, 7 p.m.

Sept. 16 vs. Crookston, 7 p.m.

Sept. 23 at West Central Area-Ashby, 7 p.m.

Oct. 7 vs. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, 7 p.m.

Oct. 14 vs Breckenridge, 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Barnesville, 7 p.m.

Jared Rubado is the sports editor for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus. He moved to the area in September of 2021 after covering sports for the Alexandria Echo Press for nearly three years. Jared graduated from the University of Augustana in 2018 with degrees in journalism and sports managment.
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