By late last winter, Mark Waller had the “itch.”
Any retired high school coach can relate to having the “itch” — that desire to get back into the profession after sitting out a few seasons and getting a chance to see what life is like outside their sport.
Waller, Lincoln North Star’s first head football coach who retired after the 2017 season following 15 years there, is getting his opportunity to scratch that itch as a first-year defensive line coach for Elkhorn South, which will be playing at Omaha Westside on Friday (7:15 p.m.) for the Class A state championship.
Between his time at North Star, 11 seasons as head coach at Holdrege and some other stops as an assistant, Waller has been part of teams playing for conference, district and city championships. But this is his first state championship game.
“It’s pretty special, pretty unique,” said Waller, who retired from teaching not long after stepping away from coaching. “I’m just glad (Elkhorn South head coach) Guy (Rosenberg) gave me this opportunity.”
The connection between Rosenberg and Waller goes way back. Waller was the defensive coordinator at Lincoln High in 2000 when Rosenberg was the secondary coach. They had stayed in contact through the years, and when a number of Rosenberg’s assistants left to go to the newly opened Elkhorn North, Waller decided to apply.
“I missed the contact and personal relationships with players and coaches,” said Waller, co-director of the Lincoln Football Coaches Association along with Pius X assistant coach Jim Hansen. “I connected with Guy back in February, told him I had an itch to start coaching again, and that’s when he told he was going to have some openings.”
Waller got into a routine this fall of working his lawn care business in the mornings, then watching film before driving to Elkhorn South for practice. One of the benefits this season is being able to work with Nebraska recruit Teddy Prochazka, a 6-foot-9, 300-pound Super-State senior who plays offensive tackle and defensive end for the Storm.
“I don’t get him (in practice) as much as I’d like to because he’s so valuable to our offensive line,” Waller said. “Teddy works extremely hard, he’s a high character kid and he’s very talented and athletic. He’s going to be a great one at Nebraska.”
Waller is hoping to continue to coach several more seasons as an assistant for the Storm. He likes some of the young talent in the pipeline, such as sophomore Maverick Noonan, a 6-4, 205-pounder who is the son of former Husker All-American and NFL player Danny Noonan.
“He’s going to be a special player,” Waller said of the younger Noonan.
But Waller also likes the direction of the Storm program and the fact he’s able to coach without all of the extra duties that come with being in charge of the entire program.
“I was a head coach for 26 years, and I don’t miss all the paperwork and everything else that comes with being a head coach,” Waller said. "Guy does a great job, he’s a great leader and he’s built a program that’s going to contend (for state championships) for many years to come.”
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