It came as a bit of a surprise three weeks ago when then Toby Lorenzen announced he was stepping down as head coach of the Central Lyon/George-Little Rock football program. What may not have surprised Lions’ fans was the candidate who will replace him.
Curtis Eben was named as the new head football coach during a school board meeting at Central Lyon March 23. Eben said he was pleased to have been given the opportunity.
“When I started here 12 years ago it came across my mind (that I could be head coach), but I wasn’t quite ready for it now,” he said. “I thought coach Lorenzen would stay on a little longer, but his time has come to an end.”
Lorenzen felt Eben was the right man for the job.
“He is organized, he has high energy, he is knowledgeable and, in my eyes, he is my choice I had hoped would someday follow me as head coach,” Lorenzen said. “He has played for us and he has always remembered what we have always preached: ‘Don’t ever forget where you came from’.”
Eben began his career in football when he joined the Central Lyon/George-Little Rock program as a freshman in 1996. During that season, the Lions were state runners-up with then head coach Dick Null.
“I entered high school in the fall of ’96. That was my freshman year and we had a great team to admire. Guys like Roger Meyer and Jeremy Klaassen and some of those guys that set the standard for Central Lyon/George-Little Rock football every day,” Eben said. “They actually finished runner-up (in the state) that year, so as a freshman you look up to those guys and how they represented the program.”
That representation had a factor on Eben and what the Lions’ football program did in the next three years. Central Lyon/George-Little Rock never lost a district game and were named runners-up again during Eben’s senior season.
“We didn’t quite reach the top, but we got close to it,” Eben said.
But Eben noted the coaching staff during that time had the greatest impact.
“That’s the one thing that always stood out to me. Someone once told me, ‘There are people who care and there are people who really care.’ For me coaches that care are people who are involved in your life, not only during the football season but after the football season. They are always talking to us, making sure we get into the weight room and asking us about our daily life. I truly feel like the coaching staff at Central Lyon/George-Little Rock, as long as I can remember, were people that treated me like a student athlete and cared about me not only in football, but also in the game of life.”
Eben was fortunate enough to be able to carry those attributes into his college days at the University of Sioux Falls during the 2000-2005 seasons.
“I went to the University of Sioux Falls for five years as I redshirted my freshman year. Before I left Central Lyon/George-Little Rock coach Null told me that I should join a winning program, because I came from a winning program. I did that,” he said.
Back then the University of Sioux Falls was an NAIA Division II school and was a member of the Great Plains Athletic Conference. The Cougars were the team to beat in the GPAC during that stretch as they won conference titles and made the NAIA playoffs every single season of Eben’s tenure. That success was aided by head coach Bob Young, who led the University of Sioux Falls to its first football national championship in 1996.
“I went to the University of Sioux Falls, a tradition that is very deep up there and I had a coach in coach Young that was very similar to coach Lorenzen in the fact that in coach Young’s program he knew everybody’s name. Those are some of the little things I remember,” Eben said. “Those life lessons and how coaches treated me.”
Eben’s goal was to carry that same mindset into his coaching career after being hired as an assistant coach under Lorenzen following graduation. Eben wanted to learn as much as possible and with a head coach like Lorenzen it ended up being an easy task.
“You learn so much and that’s the biggest thing over the years; you take away things he has done as a head coach. Obviously, with a program that has been as successful as this one has been it all starts at the top,” Eben said. “Coach Lorenzen is always a guy that has carried himself well. You try to take as many notes as you can, try to understand the reason he’s doing those things and try to replicate your program after that.”
Eben was able to replicate that Central Lyon/George-Little Rock football tradition through the wrestling program, being hired as the head coach a year after being named as an assistant coach of the football team. During Eben’s 11 years as head coach he has had various state qualifiers along with qualifying as a dual team for the state tournament in 2016.
“I always felt like the Central Lyon/George-Little Rock wrestling program was very similar to the football program. A lot of the things I do in the wrestling program are what I learned from coach Lorenzen in the football program,” Eben said.
But the main similarity between football and wrestling was being able to help turn young boys into young men.
“The biggest similarity is being able to work with kids and the opportunity to be able to work with student athletes who have wrestled and played football,” Eben said. “I’ll now see these kids on a daily basis and get involved in their life. Those are the things you can replicate your program after. Just caring about the kids, getting involved in the kids’ lives and shaping them into not only what’s best for the program, but also their journey in life. That way when they walk away they have a greater appreciation for Central Lyon/George-Little Rock sports.”
One of those athletes that will now have Eben as a head coach for football and wrestling is Ross Wiertsema. Wiertsema is a lineman for the Lions and wrestles at heavyweight.
“I believe Eben is the best fit because he has been around the (football) program and he knows what it means to play for Central Lyon/George-Little Rock. Eben has been coaching under Lorenzen for a few years, so I think their coaching styles are similar. I don’t think there will be many differences between them,” Wiertsema said.
Wiertsema noted Eben’s biggest strength as a wrestling coach is how he can lead a group, his passion for sports and passion for the student athletes he works with.
“From my experience, as having him as a wrestling coach, I know that he will bring more intensity to the program,” he said. “From having him as a wrestling coach he knows how to get everyone ready to play the game or wrestle the match.”
As far as Xs and Os, Eben said the system in football will be very similar to what Lorenzen had.
“You’re not going to see a lot of things change as far as a whole new system. We’re just going to take it to anther level with the students and coaches we have. We’re going to bring a lot of energy to the program, but it’s not going to be a whole lot different,” Eben said.
Eben added that Lorenzen’s overall advice was very similar to what Lorenzen was told by Null after Null’s departure.
“’Don’t screw it up.’” Eben said with a chuckle. “That was the same thing coach Null told him. Right now we can laugh about it, but it’s the truth.”
But Eben knows Lorenzen will always be a step away if he ever needs advice.
“The biggest thing he told me was, ‘In the next few years I’m just going to be a ghost. I’m just going to be around. Ask me questions when you need to talk to me about anything you need help with.’ That’s a great appreciation to coach Lorenzen and continuing to help a program. And people may or may not notice it but he’ll continue to be a pillar of support and maybe an advisor to me when I need it,” Eben said.
But the players know not having their long-time coach on the sidelines will take some time to get used to.
“I’m not going to lie, not having coach Lorenzen will be different. I know he will still be at every game, and he might be on the sideline with us sometimes too, but I have had coach Lorenzen since like kindergarten P.E.,” said Zed Heimensen, a sophomore who played on defense last season. “He always talked to us about how we were going to win state championships for him in 10 years. I always looked forward to that as a kid, so I will miss him.”
But Heimensen said the team is ready to see what Eben can bring to the table.
“Coach Eben is one of the toughest guys I know and his coaching methods are a direct reflection of that,” he said. “He is always preaching AAT: Alignment, Assignment and Technique. This has become one of the more common references at a daily practice and at games during game preparation (warm-ups). It is because of him our defense the past few years has been playing so well. He may be hard at times, but if I’m being honest we all deserve it.”
Lorenzen left no doubts that the football program is in good hands.
“The program will be in great shape and he will do a great job. I am excited to see him and the program have success,” he said. “I guess my (final) advice would be, ‘Don’t get hung up on the wins and losses. If you take care of your players and coaches, the wins will come.’ Football is a part of the culture around here and Curtis has been a part of it as both a player and a coach. He understands it. The program will be in great shape.”