IRON RIVER, Mich. (WJMN) – The West Iron County Wykons have been a proud football program for several decades, including recent history. The team found themselves in the postseason more often than not during the 2000s and 2010s.
However, some recent struggles in fielding a team in 2021 and 2022 left the team looking for their first win this season since 2020.
“It’s been a tough past couple years,” said Head Coach Mike Berutti. “We’ve been a competitive football team for 20-some years with some success and kids that would always play hard to the whistle. The last couple years we’ve been struggling a little bit with numbers, it’s been tough. We cancelled the varsity season last two years. Fortunately, I think it was the right decision. We’re back, we’ve got a JV and Varsity football team right now with six seniors out. We’ve got about 12 or 13 in our eighth grade class, we should be in the mid-40s for next year, looking good.”
“It’s been tough, but now that we finally have had enough players to play, it’s been fun,” said Abel Lundin, a Junior Running Back, Wide Receiver, and Cornerback. “And we’ve battled through some injuries, but we’ve came through. There was some unease from just not having two years of football in the town. But now that we’ve all come back and come together, it’s been good.”
While many schools around the U.P. have transitioned to 8-man football in recent years, the Wykons have elected to stick to 11-man. Now with players of Varsity age who’ve stuck with football in their athletic careers growing up, the team was excited to get back on the field to compete for a full season.
“We heard about all the guys that were signing up,” said Elijah Oberlin, a Junior Linebacker and Tight End. “We were pretty excited and felt pretty good about how it’s going to go. That was exciting.”
“A lot of these guys are juniors now that have stuck with it,” Berutti said. “They come to weight rooms, they come to camps, they come to practice every day. They come here, come to work and if it wasn’t for those guys, we wouldn’t be here right now if they just decided to bag it. So now I’m happy that we’re back. We’re struggling a little bit with some injuries this year, but we’re able to put a team on the field every week.”
While the road back to the field hasn’t always been a smooth one, in Week 3 the team was able to put together everything they’ve worked on throughout the beginning of the season, notching their first win since 2020 in a 22-0 victory over L’Anse. Notching the victory was sweet for the team in the moment, and has helped bring some new intensity to practice.
“There’s been a lot more energy.” Oberlin said. “Guys have been a lot more excited about going to play games and less nervous and it’s been really beneficial for everybody.”
“We’ve all been pushing each other more and more every single day,” Lundin said. “It’s just gotten so much better. We’re all nice to each other. Pushing each other, obviously. We have a chance, we have a chance we got to win, finally. Let’s get back to work at practice the next week.
“Just happy for the kids. They were very excited and happy for the community, the whole student body,” Berutti said. “It’s been fun and, actually, this year has brought things together. The volleyball team’s coming down. The football teams are going to the volleyball games and it’s a lot of excitement in the gym and on the field.”
Now with a taste of victory, the team is determined to stay the course and get back into the win column as they rejuvenate the Wykon program.
“Defense, get better on defense every single day,” Lundin said. “Defense, running the ball, blocking on offense, and getting the ball out there to our receivers and making a move.”
“One of the strengths of our team is how close everybody is,” Oberlin said. “Everyone’s pretty good friends with each other and that really helps, especially in games like our L’Anse game, where everyone was pretty, pretty excited about how it was going the whole game. That’s probably a strength we have right now is the friendship that everybody has.”
“We have to continue to work and talk about it and realize that there are positives they’re gonna get out of it. Out of everything that they’re doing,” Berutti said. “You know, the only home game we’ve had so far this year, there was a lot of excitement out on Nelson field and the community – you could really feel it. It was nice to see back in our community. The effort, they’re enthusiastic. They care and that’s what I think is important, and we’re gonna shape them and they’re going to be fine young men by just following those type of principles that you learn in football.”