June 22, 2018 at 2:11 p.m.

Defensive coordinator Justin Voss to take over North Branch football program after Ferraro departure

Defensive coordinator Justin Voss to take over North Branch football program after Ferraro departure
Defensive coordinator Justin Voss to take over North Branch football program after Ferraro departure

After their most successful season in over a decade, the North Branch football program was left looking for a new coach. Former boss Sam Ferraro left the Vikings to take the same position with the Forest Lake Rangers football squad, leaving the vacancy.

Filling that spot will be first time Head Coach Justin Voss. Voss, who recently turned 30 years old, has been an assistant at North Branch for the past three years, including the defensive coordinator last year.

Voss got the love of football from his high school playing days at Albany High School, including a junior season where the Huskies played in the Class AAA state championship game against Becker.

“It’s where I learned to be a football player and more importantly, to do things the right way,” Voss said of his time at Albany.

He says he was a typical small-school lineman, undersized but quick and very disciplined technique-wise. He was also full of grit and determination, and that went a long way for him seeing the field at Albany despite his small stature as a lineman.

After high school, Voss attended St. Cloud State University for a couple of years before transferring up to the University of Minnesota-Duluth. After being out of the sport for a couple of years, he decided he wanted to get into coaching when he went up to Duluth.

“I enjoy the teaching that takes place in coaching and I’ve always enjoyed sports, so it made sense,” Voss explained.

He sent out e-mails to multiple area high school head coaches hoping to land a spot on a coaching staff, and only one coach got back to him, Tom Nelson of Two Harbors.

Voss said when he accepted the position, he was under the assumption that Two Harbors was much closer to where he lived than it was. He quickly realized he would have some longer commutes, but that didn’t deter him. He initially was the Youth Football Coordinator for Two Harbors before moving on to coach junior varsity and then become the defensive coordinator at the high school for two years, as well as the defensive and offensive lineman coach.

“That’s where I decided  what type of football coach I wanted to be. I wanted to give the kids the tools to build relationships that go beyond football, for the rest of their lives,” Voss said. “It was more than just X’s and O’s. I wanted to be able to teach the kids about being early, shaking someone’s hand and looking them in the eye. I wanted to coach good people.”
While working at Two Harbors and going to UMD, Voss met his wife, and once she graduated the pair moved to this area,  based on her getting a job in the Forest Lake School District.
Voss then put himself out there again, sending e-mails to small local colleges in need of a coach, and again, only one coach responded, but it was the right one.

Macalester Head Coach Tony Jennison gave Voss an opportunity, and Voss took advantage. He was involved in nearly every aspect of the college football program. He was a travel coordinator, helped with recruiting, was an academic advisor and also coached tight ends.

Voss relished his experience coaching for the Scots, saying, “I just wanted to challenge myself and make good connections and I had a blast doing it.”

After only one year at Macalester, Voss ended up taking a job as a Dean of Students and Activities Director for Lakes International Language Academy, a charter school in Forest Lake, but he quickly learned he missed coaching too much.

That desire led him to North Branch and Sam Ferraro’s staff. He was the defensive line coach his first two years, but he became the defensive coordinator last season, as well as coaching defensive linemen and helping out a bit with the offensive linemen.

Voss now takes over a North Branch team that for the first time in a long while has to deal with expectations. The Vikings, who had struggled mightily for the past decade-plus, went 7-3 last year and played in the Section 7AAAA championship game. There is also the excitement around a new turf football field being installed and the general boost that the recently passed school district bond has created.

They team will miss their best offensive piece in graduated senior quarterback Aaron Robillard, but that isn’t deterring the ever-positive Voss. “This season will be unique with the new field and the expectations,” he said.

And while it seems that getting a new field and facilities around campus is going to be great, it does present challenges while the construction is going on throughout the summer.
“We need to relish this opportunity that we’re presented and we need to put the work in to be ready to go in August,” he said. “We are trying to continue to redefine North Branch football and last year’s team took a big step to turn the page, and we need to continue that.”

No challenge on the football field will faze Voss, however; as he’s been through the toughest challenge a parent can face, last year, when his son Lincoln was stillborn.

Voss and his wife, Erin, leaned on the North Branch community an awful lot in that time period, and he credits that with forming an even stronger bond with the people around him. “Everyone in North Branch was very supportive in those tough times,” he said.

Voss and his wife are now expecting their second child on July 3, and they haven’t  learned the gender yet, preferring to keep it a surprise.

Voss is already immersed in his coaching duties and what it will take to keep North Branch trending in the right direction, but he is beyond excited to fill his plate even more with a new baby. “It’s been busy just getting into coaching, but now with adding a child, it’s going to get even more busy. But it’s the good kind of busy,” he said. “It’s the kind of busy I want to be.”

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