Winona State University's Newspaper since 1919

The Winonan

Winona State University's Newspaper since 1919

The Winonan

Winona State University's Newspaper since 1919

The Winonan


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Warrior football coach makes transition to Division I Western Illinois

Alyssa Griffith/Winonan

Winona State University football’s co-offensive coordinator A.J. Blazek has recently made the move to MaComb, Ill., where he’ll join the coaching staff of NCAA Division I Western Illinois.

He’ll be joining Bob Nielson’s staff, the former athletic director and football coach at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

In his fourth and final season coaching for the Warriors, Blazek was named the 2012 AFCA Division II Assistant Coach of the Year, and helped WSU to their average of 471.1 yards per game for a NSIC record total of 5,182 yards of offense.

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The team ended the season 10-2. They finished out the 2012 season by defeating Lindenwood, Mo. 41-21 in the Mineral Water Bowl.

Blazek began his football career playing for Iowa State before returning as a graduate assistant. He spent three years there—one as a student coach while finishing his degree, and three as an assistant. After Iowa State, Blazek spent four years coaching at Fort Hays State in Kansas before making the move to Winona State.

During his time at Winona State, the admired coach has left a big impression on the players and his fellow coaches.

Former Winona State defensive lineman Colin McGuire graduated in December but remains influenced by Blazek.

“He taught players to be honest with themselves so they may better serve the team,” McGuire said. “He made sure the players were accountable to the standard of being a member of the Warrior football program.”

Blazek handled community service projects through the program and worked with all of athletics in the area of community service as well.

“Those kinds of guys are hard to see leave,” Warriors’ head coach Tom Sawyer said. “You’re excited for their next challenge but it’s a big void for us when someone like that who’s that active in and around the entire university and the community. It’s a tough role to fill.”

After watching his father coach for 20 years, Blazek knows the importance of having community support. Whether it was the community of Winona, or southeastern Minnesota as a whole, having the support of the community was key.

Blazek gives much of the credit for the community service projects they did to the student athletes.

“If you provide them some resources and give them direction and let them run with it—they’re the creative ones,” Blazek said. “We’ve had some great student athletes over my four years that really pioneered all those different community programs.”

WSU football alum Jeff Morgan is excited for Coach Blazek’s opportunity to bring his values and hard work to Western Illinois.

“I know Coach Blazek wants to be the very best at what he does and this position allows him to continue to get better at his craft at the next level in college football,” Morgan said. “I think that he is going to bring the same passion and attention to detail that he brought to Winona.”

Blazek is eager to bring the values and experiences he learned at Winona State to Western Illinois.

“It’s a chance to see another leadership style that’s been successful at the same velocity as Coach Sawyer. It’s all about the kids first,” Blazek said. “Their experience, their opportunity, how we can take and develop them. Teaching is an extremely important part of being a good coach. A lot of those things I’ve heard for the last 35 years of my life are what Coach Nielson brings to the table. It’s an opportunity for me to continue to grow as a coach and for our family to enjoy this fun game of football. “

The Leathernecks were in the national playoffs a couple of years ago, but have not had the same success since. Blazek is excited about the opportunity to come in and build confidence and a strong team, which Coach Sawyer has going at WSU

McGuire is also happy for Blazek’s opportunity to advance his career and is confident that WSU will continue building a staff and team dedicated to being a force to be reckoned with.

“His absence will be felt, no doubt, but Coach Blazek has left behind a legacy of winning, leadership, and service and a coaching staff that built themselves from the same legacy,” McGuire said. “I believe whoever replaces him will be able to carry on his legacy as the current coaching staff and administration at Winona State would expect nothing less.”

With spring practices just around the corner, the next task for Coach Sawyer, his staff and administration is to find someone to fill the position. They began receiving applicants almost immediately, and hope to have someone join staff very soon.

Blazek and his family remain extremely grateful to the Winona community and will be watching out for the Warriors future successes, as the Winona community will be sure to keep up with Blazek’s coaching successes as well.

“I can’t say thanks enough to the people at Winona,” Blazek said. “I will always be a Warrior.”

Contact Alyssa at [email protected].

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