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Local Sports

Swedenhjelm is at Cardinal football helm

Andy Swedenhjelm was named the new Newton High head football coach at the end of January. He has been an assistant coach on the Cardinal football staff since 2013. Swedenhjelm teaches physical education and health at NHS.
Andy Swedenhjelm was named the new Newton High head football coach at the end of January. He has been an assistant coach on the Cardinal football staff since 2013. Swedenhjelm teaches physical education and health at NHS.

Build on the foundation laid by former Newton High School head football coaches and continue to grow the Cardinal football program are in Andy Swedenhjelm plans.

Swedenhjelm is the new head Cardinal football coach but is not new to the program. After spending seven years as an assistant coach on Ed Ergenbright’s staff, Swedenhjelm was named head coach on Jan. 27.

Ergenbright retired in December after 17 years at the helm and 33 years as a coach at NHS.

“I’m excited about this fantastic opportunity. I’m blessed to know a lot of the kids and the issues we face here in Newton,” Swedenhjelm said. “I’m taking over a solid program. I believe I have a pretty good plan to help continue to move it forward.”

Swedenhjelm is a Norwalk native but went to Dowling Catholic High School, where he played football, wrestled and competed in track. He played center on the offensive line and was a defensive tackle for the Maroons.

He went on to play as a defensive lineman for Truman State University at Kirksville, Mo. He wrestled one year at Truman State after finishing his football career.

Swedenhjelm’s coaching career began at Truman State as he was the outside linebacker coach for a year as he worked on his master’s degree. He has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and his master’s degree is in exercise science education.

Swedenhjelm coached football as an assistant at Ottumwa for three years — offensive line coach, special teams coordinator and was the co-offensive coordinator in his third season. He also was an assistant wrestling coach during that span.

In 2013, he accepted a teaching and coaching position at Newton High School. Swedenhjelm teaches physical education and health and is the strength coach. He has been the Cardinal wrestling head coach since 2013.

On the football side, Swedenhjelm joined Ergenbright’s staff as a offensive line coach. He had previously been the defensive coordinator since 2016.

“I’m a huge believer that our culture trumps strategy every day,” Swedenhjelm said. “One of the most influential coaches in my life said the best way to actually love your players is to have really high expectations for them and then hold them accountable.

“We had a team meeting the week it was announced I was the head coach and we laid out our expectations for the program, the team, each individual player and for us as coaches.”

He said a winning culture is about having the players on board with what it takes to win on the football field, in the classroom and in life. It’s key to establish the culture and teach the players to be accountable on all levels.

“Once you get that accomplished with kids truly unselfish and have learned what it’s like to be a good teammate then winning starts taking care of itself,” Swedenhjelm said.

Swedenhjelm said he will take over the reins of the offense for the 2020 season. He said a lot of the current Newton assistant coaches will be on his staff but as of the interview all the positions hadn’t been finalized. Brad Kahler and Jeff Richardson will be the co-defensive coordinators.

“We’ve all worked with each other and get along well so it will be an easy and smooth transition. Jeff and Brad are great coaches and I trust them with the defense. For me on defense, our players have to be running to the football and that we can tackle. If we teach them those two things then our passion and excitement will feed into being a solid defensive team,” Swedenhjelm said.

Offensively, Swedenhjelm said if you look at what Newton’s done on the offensive side of the ball “when it’s clicking really well, it’s tough to stop.” He pointed to how well the Cardinals’ rushing game performed against Valley in a 38-28 Class 4A district loss, gaining 231 yards and had three rushing touchdowns.

Newton’s gun-rocket offense has been a top rushing offense for several years through two seasons at 4A and the last two seasons at 3A. The Cardinals led 3A in rushing in 2018 with 3,105 yards and was sixth in overall offense. It was 10th in rushing and 15th overall in 2019.

“You fit your offense and defense to the players you have and their skill sets. We have a lot of kids who can carry the ball and I like what we do. There will be some tweaking but I don’t know how much different it will look from in the past. We’re looking to streamline — communication and other things,” he said. “Good teams have a tough time handling it when we’re executing well.”

Swedenhjelm said all players will know positions on both side of the ball as well as the coaches.

“We have a lot of things already in place here at Newton to be successful. We have an early-bird class at the high school for students to come in and lift weights. It’s a class so the students can work every single day in the weight room to get better. We encouraging kids to take advantage of this,” he said.

Newton also has Cardinal Power in the summer. He said it’s a great opportunity to work with the kids as they can install a lot of what the team will be doing in the fall.

“Also our players need to be out for other sports during the winter, spring and summer seasons. There’s a lot you can develop athletic-wise in those other sports. If you want to be fast go out for track which is about running fast,” Swedenhjelm said.

Swedenhjelm and his wife, Lily, have a 7-month-old son, Theo. Lily is a dietitian at UnityPoint Health in Grinnell.

“We love it in Newton,” Swedenhjelm said. “As in wrestling, the plan is to get our football kids out in the community doing things to help and allow the Newton community to be proud of our kids and our program.

Contact Jocelyn Sheets at
641-792-3121 ext. 6535
or jsheets@newtondailynews.com

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