When Drew Clevenger is done with his duties as Saint Ansgar’s head football coach on a Friday night, he checks other scores from the state of Iowa.
The first school he looks for is PCM.
Waukee head football coach Scott Carlson does the same thing. Clevenger, a Monroe native, and Carlson, from Prairie City originally, are both very fond of the place they both call home.
“I still have a lot of pride for my hometown,” Clevenger said. “After I find PCM’s score, I check in on Dowling.”
At Dowling Catholic, Monroe native Tom Wilson has been the head coach for the past 16 years, winning eight Class 4A titles and seven in a row.
Current PCM head football coach Greg Bonnett, who graduated from PCM in 1995, was an assistant coach under Wilson at Dowling before coming to his alma mater.
“It has been fun to watch the program build as Greg and his staff have done a great job,” Wilson said. “One thing you will always get from a Greg Bonnett coached team is his kids will play the game hard. They will play with great effort and toughness. That is a tribute to Greg and his staff.”
Bonnett is 76-30 since taking over at PCM. But he’s 53-10 since 2015.
The Mustangs are back in the 2A semifinals for the second time in three years after rallying to edge West Marshall 21-20 this past weekend. They will try to score their second state championship in that time frame.
Dowling Catholic, Saint Ansgar and Waukee also compete in the state quarterfinals this weekend.
“It is interesting how the school has produced football coaches,” Wilson said. “As you look back at it, I think we were all lucky to have been around coaching role models while growing up. They had an impact on all of us which made us want to enter the profession. I know I had coaches like Larry Andrew, Fred Lorenson, Brian Hazelton and Ron Thomason that made an impact on me.”
Wilson graduated from Monroe High School in 1985. Before building a 4A powerhouse at Dowling, he had coaching stints at English Valleys, Wilton, Ball State University and Dike-New Hartford.
At Dike-New Hartford, he appeared in three state title games in eight seasons. Wilson’s career coaching record is 261-63.
“Tom was important to me. I looked to him for help when I got started here,” Clevenger said. “He was always generous. He gave me a foot hold to start my own program.”
Wilson said he grew up around Clevenger and graduated with his sister and brother-in-law. He has known Drew for maybe his entire life.
Aside from having Bonnett on his staff for seven years, Wilson also has former PCM Mustang Ryan Van Veen on his current staff. Wilson tries to play golf with Bonnett a few times a year.
“I am in constant contact with all the coaches in that program,” Bonnett said of Dowling. “They have a bunch more coaches now that I never coached with, but I have met them and became pretty good friends with all of them. I love Dowling Catholic and I always will.”
The resume of each coach is impressive.
At Saint Ansgar, Clevenger has won at least 10 games in a season six times since 2014.
Clevenger guided the Saints to the 2011 Class 1A state championship and they played in the state semifinals in 2006, 2011, 2017 and 2019. His record at Saint Ansgar is 167-57 after advancing to the Class A semifinals this past weekend.
“The expectations are high. We have outstanding assistant coaches and the kids have bought in to what we do here,” Clevenger said. “We have tried to be consistent. We had a rich tradition before I got here. It’s a heavy run scheme with an old school mindset.”
Three of the four programs have been heavy on the run game this season. PCM’s 2,733 rushing yards is second in 2A. Saint Ansgar ranks second in Class A with 3,180 rushing yards and Waukee’s 1,988 rushing yards sits fifth in 4A.
Dowling has done more damage through the air. The Maroons have 1,731 passing yards, which ranks fourth in 4A.
“I’m definitely impressed by each of those guys and the success that they’ve been able to achieve in their respective jobs,” Carlson said. “Having pride in my hometown, the accomplishments of those guys is something that I definitely appreciate and it’s fun to be connected with them in that way.”
Carlson graduated from Prairie City in 1982. Before taking over as head coach at Waukee, Carlson was an assistant coach at Denison and under John Jenkins in Newton.
When Carlson got to Waukee 25 years ago, the Warriors were a 2A school and the first graduating class had 67 seniors. Waukee is currently the biggest high school in Iowa with more than 700 seniors.
The next change coming to Waukee will be two separate high schools next fall.
“Lots of changes over that time, but the thing that has honestly guided our decisions as a staff is to do the best we can to give our football players an experience that is like a small community in spite of our size,” Carlson said. “Philosophically, that is challenging, but we’ve had great administrative leadership and some outstanding assistant coaches that have always had the best interest of our players in mind. That makes my job as easy as it can be.”
Waukee went 7-3 this season but played one of the toughest schedules in 4A. Carlson has guided the Warriors to at least eight wins six times since 2012. Waukee was 11-2 in 2014 and 10-2 in 2013.
Carlson got a front-row seat to PCM’s 2018 state championship as he was inside the UNI-Dome for the historic win.
“A lot of pride in that achievement to say the least. I was fortunate enough to see the game in person and it was a pretty special moment,” Carlson said. “I still have a close connection to the town with family who still live near PC.
“It was very special to see the Mustangs bring it home. Some of my high school friends and former teammates had sons playing in that game which made it even more fun.”
Wilson and Clevenger also still have family in the area.
Clevenger’s father lives in Newton and he has grandparents, aunts and uncles in Monroe. He hasn’t been back to his hometown for a few years though.
“I don’t realize I miss it so much until I get there,” Clevenger said. “It’s the area of the state that shaped who I am.”
Wilson’s mother and brother still live in Monroe. And the memories he has from the community are endless.
“My roots are in that town. I would not trade where I grew up for anything,” said Wilson, who like Bonnett at PCM is the AD at Dowling.
“There are times where I wish my own children could experience what it’s like to grow up in a small town, but it hasn’t worked out that way. I’m proud of where I came from and look on with pride still today.”
Bonnett came to th district in sixth grade and stayed until his 1995 graduation.
He started his coaching career in Lancaster, Texas, and then was a graduate assistant at Northwest Missouri State where he won two national titles as a player.
Bonnett took over at PCM in 2011 after spending seven years at Dowling.
“I told Tom (Wilson) in my postseason interview in 2010 after we had just won the state title that the only job I would ever leave him for was PCM and it actually came open that spring,” Bonnett said. “Tom and I met in the early 2000s right when he took over at Dowling. He’s from here, but we are 10 years a part and never knew each other personally. Now we are great friends and there’s nothing we love to do more than get together and talk about football, being an AD and being a parent.”
Bonnett and Clevenger were in high school together and played on the same football teams. Clevenger was a senior when Bonnett was a sophomore.
Their high school football coach was Brian Hazelton, who also was an assistant coach at Monroe High School when Wilson was a senior.
Wilson spent a year as a volunteer assistant on Hazelton’s staff, too.
“I’m just so proud of all of them,” Hazelton said. “People maybe thought I had something as a coach, but what I had was good players and those guys all made me look good.”
The connection they had as kids has given Bonnett a reason to follow Clevenger’s program at Saint Ansgar.
“Drew Clevenger has been a long-time friend of mine. I looked up to him very much in school,” Bonnett said. “He was a great role model and I still feel that way about him. The guy is brilliant and one of the most emotionally intelligent people I have ever met. I know why his kids would run through a wall for him.”
PCM, Dowling and Saint Ansgar all won their quarterfinal games and will play in the UNI-Dome this weekend for the chance to play for another state title.
All three teams are ranked in the top five of their respective classes.
Waukee’s season ended at the hands of second-ranked Ankeny in last weekend’s quarterfinals.
“I like it when people who don’t know me find out I’m from PCM because chances are really good they know Tom or Drew or Carlson,” Bonnett said. “I always like to talk about those guys and how we all came from this little spot in the world. It’s pretty remarkable really.”