June 9, 2011 at 10:28 a.m.

Coaching carousel continues for NB football

Justin Sawyer resigns to become the principal at Braham High School
Coaching carousel continues for NB football
Coaching carousel continues for NB football

In an all too familiar event for North Branch, another head football coach is departing the high school.

Justin Sawyer, who was head coach for two seasons and had coached in the district for six years total, is leaving to become the principal at Braham Area High School.

"This is a great opportunity for me to move into a leadership position," Sawyer said. "It will be hard to walk away from my coaching duties, but I am very excited to become a Bomber."

Sawyer also leaves behind his duties as an assistant on North Branch track and field teams, and for most of his tenure, he was an assistant on the girls basketball team, though he had recently stepped away from that position for more family time.

Sawyer was arguably the most successful coach in recent memory for North Branch, as he compiled a 5-13 record over his two years, including a huge upset win over Chisago Lakes to begin his career. Before Sawyer, the last two coaches had combined to go 3-24 over a three year period.

Last year, the Vikings went 3-6, but were competitive in nearly every game on the season, with their first four losses on the season coming by a combined 24 points.

They ran off three consecutive wins, including a 47-13 drubbing of Columbia Heights and a 35-30 upset of Irondale.

In Sawyer's last game as the coach, the Vikings went up 20-0 over Hill Murray in the first round of sections, but the Pioneers rattled off 44 unanswered points to win 44-20.

Although Sawyer is moving on to Braham, he and his family will remain in North Branch. Although he won't be out of touch with the community, there are things that Sawyer will miss. "I will miss working with all of the great student/athletes. I have been very blessed to work with such great kids over the last six years in football, basketball, and track," he said. "It has been a pleasure to serve as a coach in this community."

With his departure, Sawyer had plenty of people to thank, and he believes he left the football program in a better spot than it was when he took over.

"Over the last couple years we have moved North Branch football in the right direction and the program is ready to continuing moving towards more and more success," he said. "If the kids keep working hard, good things will continue to happen. I would also like to thank the parents, community, school board, and administration for all of the support!"

North Branch Activities Director Todd Van Erp echoed those sentiments. "I'm thrilled for Justin and the opportunity he has. It's great for him, but at the same time, bad for us that he's leaving," the AD said. "But, in the last few years, he has pointed the program in the direction we wanted and done a great job."

What's next for North Branch?

Although Sawyer knows where he is going next, the focus now shifts to who the next head coach will be at North Branch.

The job has been somewhat of a hot potato over the last half decade. Whoever the school hires will be the fifth head coach in seven years for North Branch.

Although Van Erp didn't have a timetable on when a new coach would be in place, he said ideally they would've liked to have one in place "yesterday".

"The job is posted, but we are in the process of hiring teachers for next year, and we'll look at any qualified candidates from there," Van Erp said. "But there are numerous internal candidates who have expressed interest in the position to me already, also"

Regardless of who the next ball coach is, Van Erp is confident that the direction Sawyer has pointed the program in, as well as the current group of underclassmen, will lead to continued success. "We have a lot of good kids coming up," he said. "I believe they can rise to the occasion and keep things going in a positive direction."


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