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Former Northstar lived football dream

Larson has gone from college, to the pros, and back to high school as assistant coach

Oct. 20, 2009

As a player, Kurt Larson was one of the best high school and college football players ever to come out of Waukesha County.

While playing in high school at Waukesha North, Larson earned All-State honors as a senior and helped the Northstars advance to the WIAA Division 1 state championship game at Camp Randall Stadium in 1983.

His success continued in college football after he earned a scholarship at Michigan State and helped the Spartans win the Rose Bowl championship in 1987, scoring a 20-17 victory over No. 2-ranked USC.

He lived out every young football player's dream by being drafted in the 8th round by the Indianapolis Colts and played two years with that team. After getting released, Larson's fortunes improved when he was signed by the Green Bay Packers, his home-state team, and he played one season with the NFL's winningest franchise.

Back where it started

Larson is taking on a new role these days. First-year Oconomowoc High School varsity football coach Ryan McMillen recruited Larson to join his staff and work with the defense. After initially deciding not to, Larson talked to his boss, changed his mind and is now a prominent member of the OHS staff.

Like McMillen, Larson, who now lives in Oconomowoc, is doing everything he can to turn the fortunes of the Oconomowoc football program around and hopefully return the Raccoons to state powerhouse status, a spot they once held under Hall of Fame coach Ed Rux.

"I'm really happy to be working with Ryan and proud to be on his staff," said Larson, 43. "First we want to become a winning team, and then a winning program. We knew the talent is out there. The key is getting all the kids to play their best.

Plus, we need to have all the kids who live in the district to play at Oconomowoc. Too many are playing elsewhere. Things are going good for us. Hopefully we can finish the season off on a good note and keep building it from there. I'm glad I was asked to be part of it."

The 1984 North graduate, now the father of an eighth-grade son (Canton) and sixth-grade daughter (Remi), lettered three years for the Northstars and finished his high school career at Camp Randall Stadium. North, under coach Tim Poulson that year, lost in the state championship game to powerhouse D.C. Everest (13-0) by a 28-14 score. North finished the year 11-1.

As a sophomore, Larson was a kicker for the Northstars and then played linebacker and wide receiver his final two years.

"We had a bunch of good guys and a bunch of good football players at North," Larson said. "Playing in the state title game is something you never forget. I tell the high school guys now. Make the most of your high school career. You'll never have more fun."

Staying on the field

Larson was highly recruited at North and played four years for the Spartans, with the Rose Bowl win coming during his junior year. The Spartans won the game when All-American Lorenzo White scored a touchdown late the game.

"When we won the Rose Bowl, I thought nothing could get better," Larson said. "I felt very fortunate at the time. I got my scholarship very late. A guy from Ohio was going to get it, but he changed his mind at the last minute and went to Ohio State. That opened up a spot for me, and I made the most of it."

Larson also made the most of his three-year NFL career.

"In my three years in the NFL, I was pretty much a No. 2 linebacker and played on the special teams," Larson said. "It was a great experience. Those guys are good in that league. But I knew it was time to come back home and find a job. It was time to move on in my life."

Larson stayed out of football for a while before joining the staff at Arrowhead High School under Hall of Fame coach Tom Taraska in the early 2000s. Larson coached at Arrowhead when the Warhawks finished second at state three times.

"That was really my first time coaching high school kids, and I liked it a lot," Larson said. "I learned a lot over there. But then my kids started getting older, and I didn't have the time any more. I missed it, but family came first. Now that my kids are bigger, I jumped at the chance to get back, especially at Oconomowoc. I think a lot of good things are ahead of us."

The Cooney connection

McMillen, who teaches at Nature Hill Grade School, had Canton in class last year and asked him if his dad would like to coach. At first, Larson balked before coming around to the idea.

"My boss told me it would be no problem, and I'm really enjoying myself," Larson added. "I don't get there every day, but I get there as often as I can. I want to be part of the Oconomowoc program turning things around. I know it's going to happen."

It already has to a degree. Oconomowoc had won five games for the first time since 2002, preceding Wednesday's clash with Wisconsin Lutheran.

"We just need everyone to be positive behind us," Larson said. "If that happens, good things are going to happen at Oconomowoc. All of the sports programs are looking good, and that's good to see."

And good to see Larson back in football, right where he belongs.

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