Friday, February 25, 2011

The Russ Young Banquet (feat. Jerry Kramer)

When Green Bay Packers all-time great and iconic legend Jerry Kramer speaks, people listen.

On Saturday, Feb. 19, at the Russ Young Award Banquet at the Hilton Garden Inn in Oshkosh, Kramer stepped to the microphone and captivated the audience.

His speech defined the event.

Kramer not only shared fond memories of his time playing under former Packers’ head coach Vince Lombardi, with players such as Paul Hornung, Bart Starr, Max McGee and winning numerous championships, but he also described what it takes to achieve success.

“Aristotle said, ‘We are what we repeatedly do, and excellence is not an occasional act, it’s a habit.’ ” Kramer said. “I am the master of my fate, and I am the captain of my soul. You decide what your life is going to be. You decide how successful you’re going to be, and you decide what kind of an impact you’re going to have on the people around you.”

Dave Hochtritt is one individual who made excellence a lifelong habit.

For his leadership, commitment and lasting impact within the community of UW Oshkosh, Hochtritt was presented with the 2011 Russ Young Leadership and Achievement Award.

Sponsored by the UW Oshkosh Titan Touchdown Club and hosted by Burke Griffin, Sports Anchor for WFRV-TV and 1995 UW Oshkosh graduate, the banquet took place to honor coach Hochtritt.

Senior football players for Oshkosh were also recognized and commended for their accomplishments as Titans.

The Russ Young Award was established in 2009 in honor of Russ Young, head football coach at UW Oshkosh from 1963 to 1976. 

Coach Young left a legacy of leadership and commitment to excellence, both on and off the playing field.

The award recognizes an individual who has exhibited the ideals of Russ Young’s legacy throughout their career, community involvement, character and immense contributions to Titan athletics.

In the midst of renowned Green Bay Packers Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston and Kramer, current and former Titans’ coaches, the senior football players, friends and family alike, Hochtritt accepted the award graciously.

“Russ was a good friend of mine, and I can’t think of anybody I cared for more,” Hochtritt said. “He was a good man, and I am really proud to accept this award on his behalf. Thank you.”

Hochtritt’s daughter Lisa also shared her appreciation for both Young and her father.

“Football has been a huge part of my dad’s life for as long as I can remember, and Russ Young was instrumental in teaching him about coaching life at UW Oshkosh,” she said. “Russ’s mentorship helped to shape my dad into the great coach and person he is today.”

Young took over control of the Titans’ football program in 1963, following four years as an assistant to Bob Kolf.

During his 14 years as head coach, Young’s teams won three Wisconsin State University Conference Championships (1968, 1972 and 1976), stockpiling a 68-63-2 overall record.

Hochtritt took over following Young’s departure and is the second most winning coach in Titans’ history behind his predecessor.

In addition to his exceptional coaching career, Hochtritt also spent 30 years as a professor for UW Oshkosh.

Hochtritt was a part of Titan football for 17 years, 10 with Young, but his career also includes coaching in the Canadian Football League and even working as a professional scout for a multitude of teams in the National Football League.

Russ Young played a large role in sculpting the career of his dear friend and colleague, but the allies were separated in January of 1983 when Young passed away after battling a long illness.

Before Young passed on, he made one final request of Hochtritt.

“Coach Young made a wish,” Hochtritt said. “He said, ‘I want my ashes sprinkled over Titan Stadium.’ ”

Hochtritt fulfilled his friend’s last request, and Young’s legacy to this day has stood as a beacon for UW Oshkosh Athletics.

What few understand, however, is Hochtritt almost gave up his dream before ever finding his niche in Oshkosh.

“I was coaching at a small liberal arts school over in Minnesota, with not much of a future,” Hochtritt said. “In fact, I was considering getting out of coaching and even investigated a truck driving job.”

Hochtritt traveled to Oshkosh soon thereafter to visit a former teammate, and it was then he met Russ Young.

Young offered Hochtritt a job as assistant coach of the Titans, and needless to say, he opted against a career in truck driving.

“That was the best decision of my life, accepting Russ’s offer,” Hochtritt said. “I had the best 10 years of my life coaching with Russ Young.”

Kramer illustrated an eerily similar situation, in which adversity nearly crippled his career with the Green Bay Packers.

The bruising offensive lineman was selected by the Packers in the 1958 NFL Draft, but the early stages of Kramer’s playing days were far from excellent.

Following a team scrimmage in which Kramer committed several penalties and missed a key block, he received a tongue-lashing from the immortal coach Lombardi and felt all hope of success in the NFL slipping away.

“I go up to the locker room, shuck my shoulder pads off and put my head in my hands,” Kramer recalled. “I wondered what I was going to do with the rest of my life, and I thought maybe it’s time for me to get out of football. Maybe it’s time to find a different profession.”

Lombardi’s intent was not to belittle one of his best players, rather to instill a hunger for success that he knew lie within Kramer.

“He walks over, slaps me on the back of the neck and says, ‘son, one of these days you are going to be the best guard in football,’” Kramer said. “Boom, filled me up. Something started a fire in me and warmth was created inside my body. [Lombardi] had the wonderful ability to paint pictures of what is possible if you really want something, and so I worked my tail off from that point on.”

Both Kramer and Hochtritt nearly abandoned their passion in life for something far less demanding, but both found the will to persevere and strive for excellence.

Kramer garnered five NFL Championships and two Superbowl victories as a player for the Green Bay Packers, while Hochtritt is a member of the UW Oshkosh Titan Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2000.

The two men have led very different lives, each with ample success in their own right, but their achievements stem from a fire that was once planted within.

This hunger developed into action, and actions transformed them into beloved legends not only on the football field but in the hearts of those they touched.

This is what Russ Young stood for, and this is what the Russ Young Leadership and Achievement Award represents.

On an evening filled with bright, shining stars from the past, present and unconquerable potential of the future and during an event that recognized all included in making the night possible, current Titans’ head coach Pat Cerroni placed it all in perfect perspective.

“This night has been very, very special,” Cerroni affirmed.

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