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Prep football: Denfeld football coach Huie steps down

Steve Kuchera / Frank Huie is stepping down as Duluth Denfeld's football coach. Huie played for the Hunters in the late 1970s, then joined their coaching staff as a volunteer assistant in 1980. He's been with the program almost ever since.

Following a season-ending loss to Cloquet in the Section 7AAAA playoffs on Oct. 27, an emotional Frank Huie stood before his Duluth Denfeld football team.

Huie's postgame address that afternoon at Bromberg Field, which came after the Hunters had concluded their most successful campaign since 2009, hinted at a change in the offing.

"He told us that it might be time for old gray beard to hang it up," said senior Dominic Klaas, a fullback and linebacker for the Hunters.

Huie isn't hinting anymore. The gregarious and quick-witted coach is leaving a program he's been involved with in some capacity for about 40 years, or 70 percent of his life.

It was suggested to Huie that the timing is unusual. Since he began his second stint as head coach in 2012, Denfeld had struggled to get untracked, especially when the schedule consisted largely of opponents from the mighty Mississippi 8 Conference. This past fall, though, the Hunters rebounded, going 6-4 and challenging top-seeded Cloquet in the section semifinals before falling 35-26.

Denfeld was competitive every night out. And that hadn't always been the case in recent years. So why now? Huie, just as fiery about the game as he's always been, said his decision extends beyond on-field results.

"It had less to do with winning and losing, and more if it was the right time or not," he said. "For me, I just felt that things are in a pretty solid position right now. I'm hopeful that somebody will give my staff and people a chance to continue it."

The 57-year-old Huie graduated from Denfeld in 1979, where he was a two-way player for Marv Heikkinen, then joined Heikkinen's staff as a volunteer assistant with the sophomore team in 1980. He remained an assistant — to Heikkinen, then to Dave Mooers — through 2004, after which Huie was hired to succeed Mooers.

But when the school district consolidated from three to two high schools, Huie was bypassed for the Denfeld post, which went to former Duluth Central coach Chris Vold. Despite the slight, Huie threw his hat in the ring when Vold resigned after guiding the Hunters in 2010 and '11. Huie got the job, of course, bringing his zest and passion for football back to his alma mater.

When Huie replaced Mooers, the Hunters' slate looked much like it always had, with games mainly against Northland foes. But by 2009, Denfeld faced the likes of Delano, St. Thomas Academy, Detroit Lakes and St. Paul Como Park during a 7-4 showing that ended against Bemidji in the section final.

In 2012, Huie's first year back, the Hunters debuted in the Mississippi 8. It wasn't a good fit. Aside from a win over Duluth East, they were 0-fer in the conference, which was comprised mostly of larger schools located in Twin Cities suburbs. The district scheduling format, introduced in 2015, offered a bit of a reprieve, but Denfeld didn't fully turn the corner until this fall.

Watching Huie at practice or during a game, his energy and enthusiasm never waned, regardless of the Hunters' fortunes.

"That was something that we as a staff felt was very important, to try to still make the experience as fun as we could and try to teach those kids the core things we wanted to teach them," Huie said.

The coach's optimism set the tone.

"I still loved to come to practice every day and be with the guys and the coaches," Klaas said. "He always made it fun."

Added senior lineman Erik Nelson, who will play at Minnesota Duluth: "It kind of motivated everybody to step up and play better."

Huie, a physical education teacher at Lincoln Park Middle School, isn't sure what his future holds and if football will be a part of it.

"I totally plan on getting away and being a fan next year," he said. "After that, I have no idea. I don't know if I'll get an itch. I don't know if I'll be content as (heck)."

Following Denfeld's 19-6 win over Duluth East on Sept. 21 at Public Schools Stadium, Huie stood side-by-side with Heikkinen at midfield while proudly lauding his club. The mood was festive, and Huie was in his element, doing what he loves — coaching and cajoling high school football players.

Indeed, the home sideline at PSS is going to look different next season.That's where Huie, who owned a 28-84 record in 12 seasons as head coach, has spent many of his fall Friday nights since the late '70s, save for 2010-11.

The playoff loss in Cloquet marked the end of an era.

"I was glad that he was able to end on a good season, but I also felt bad because he's been around football his whole life," Nelson said.