The changing of fall colors, the harvest and the first snow fall may not be the only things Montezuma residents are talking about these days.
The Montezuma Braves football team is in good company as well. And for a good reason.
The Braves wrapped up the 2020 regular season undefeated, beating then number two New London on the road in the rain on the way to a 7-0 record and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
This is only the fourth time in the last 70 plus years that the Braves have finished the regular season undefeated. The first time in recent memory would be the 1948 Braves squad coached by I.A. Gabriel, who rolled through the season undefeated and unscored upon.
The Badger-Gabriel football field is named after Gabriel and long-time Montezuma administrator, R.H.J. “Doc” Badger.
It would be another 40 years, but the Braves did it again in 1988, in what former Braves football coach Darrell Brand calls the “Gold Dot” season, when the team went 8-0 in Class 1A, before losing in the first-round of the playoffs to wrap up an 8-1 record.
Outside of the current season, the Braves last went undefeated in 2014 under then coach Tyler Baethke. They finished with a 10-1 record in Class A, losing in the second-round of the playoffs to a tough Earlham team.
Coach Brand grew up in neighboring Sully, attending and graduating from Sully High School in 1955, where he played six-man football.
He attended Central College in Pella from 1955–58, where he was a running back and linebacker on defense for the Dutch.
After graduating from Central in 1959, Brand joined the staff at Harmony of Farmington in the fall, where he taught and coached for one year.
“I started the 8-man football program,” he said of his time at the school.
After a year, Brand took a job at Prairie City where he taught biology, junior high science, P.E. and served as a guidance counselor during a four-year span. He also coached boys’ and girls’ basketball and served as an assistant football and track coach.
Then Montezuma came calling, rolling out the red carpet in 1964. Brand would spend the next 33 years in a number of positions including teacher, coach and administrator.
“I kind of hit them all,” he said.
Brand taught junior high English, served as elementary principal, high school principal and athletic director at Montezuma. He also coached boys’ basketball, junior high girls’ track, served as head baseball coach and assistant football coach before taking over the helm of the gridiron squad, where he stayed for more years than he can remember.
The 1988 season was a special one for Brand. It was the first and only time his team finished the regular season undefeated. Brad Arendt, Jamie Arendt, Marty James, Matt James, Wes Pargeon, Rich Grife, Chad Hedrick and Darrin Ehret were some of the players on that team.
“It was a special team,” he said.
He refers to it as the “Gold Dot” season. For those who know Brand, know about the “Gold Dot.” He often shares the story of the reason behind the “Gold Dot” using it as a motivational tool along with his famous breakdown routine at homecoming and other school functions.
The “G” stands for Goals
The “O” stands for Oneness
The “L” stands for Loyalty
The “D” stands for Determination
He heard about the “Gold Dot “from former Baylor Bears football coach, Grant Taft.
“When they hired him at Baylor, he came out with the “Gold Dot,’” Brand said.
And still to this day, Brand carries a sticker pad filled with gold dots in his billfold. He places them on player’s helmets, while giving them a pat on the back.
When people ask him the meaning behind the “Gold Dot,” “I tell them about it,” he said.
“Even when the kids do jumping jacks, during warmups before a game, they recite G O L D verbally,” said Brand.
And the 1988 team also got Brand a Gold Dot license plate for his vehicle and he still has it to this day.
And during this tenure as the Braves football coach, Brand said he never lost to Iowa City Regina, a team that has captured state in recent years.
After retiring from Montezuma, Brand returned to his alum mater, Central, as assistant football coach. And at 83 and more than 20 years later, Brand is still traveling from Montezuma to Pella one day a week where he works with the punters and kickers.
For many years, Brand has served as a track meet starter, saying he has started or clerked every track meet that Montezuma has held.
“When I was clerking, Bill Bolen, another long-time Montezuma supporter, was a starter,” he said.
Montezuma hosts the annual Darrell Brand Relays, a track meet named after the long-time coach.
Through it all, Brand said his goal wasn’t about being undefeated, but about being competitive.
“I wanted to be in a position to win every game,” he said. “I don’t care if that is football, basketball or track.”
He was also quick to credit his wife, Sherm, who he met in high school, for her support and encouragement through the years. The couple has been married 61 years.
Baethke and O’Brien
Brand has taught, coached and made a difference in the lives of many young people though the years. One of those players is Tyler Baethke, a Williamsburg graduate and running back at Central College, who Brand recruited and coached from 2001-05.
“Coach Brand is the biggest reason I went into coaching and the reason I went to Central,” said Baethke. “I knew him growing up, because he coached my dad at Montezuma. Obviously, I think he is a good coach and a really good person.”
Baethke coached at Montezuma from 2012 – 18, all in Class A until 2018, the first year of eight-man football.
Under Baethke’s leadership, the Braves went undefeated in 2014, finishing in the second round of playoffs with a 10-1 record.
And right there with Baethke on the sidelines was his dad, Larry, who played prep football at Montezuma under Brand in the late 1970s.
“We had a really great group of kids,” said Baethke of the undefeated season. “We didn’t have a lot of stars, but we had a lot of really good football players who cared more about the team than individual stats.”
“I love coaching and working with the kids and it is nice see their hard work pay off,” added Baethke.
Today, Baethke is an assistant football coach at Western Dubuque, a 3A school. He currently works with cornerbacks and the offensive line.
And for the 2020 undefeated Braves team, coach Pat O’Brien said we have a great group of young men here at Montezuma.
“The kids come ready to work every week,” he said. “They are the perfect example of the culture we have tried to establish here since taking over. These men have done everything asked of them and then some.”
O’Brien played his prep career at Williamsburg and college ball at William Penn and Central. He began his coaching career at English Valleys as the junior high football coach for two years. He then went to Williamsburg, where he served as the linebacker coach.
“I coached there for five seasons, making the playoffs all five seasons, and making the state championship in 2017,” he said. “I learned a lot from that staff. Coach Curt Ritchie is an amazing mentor, friend and leader, along with the members of the staff.”
O’Brien joined the Montezuma staff in 2018, coaching one year with Baethke, who helped him acclimate to the kids and the community.
As coach, O’Brien said, the focus is to go one and O each week. He said Montezuma has a tremendous staff that looks for every opportunity to help young men, become better men.
“We can’t control the past, nor can we control the future, so we just focus on the present,” noted O’Brien. “We focus on being the best version of ourselves that we can be and take every opportunity we can to get better. This is not about going undefeated, this is about being the best version of us that we can be. We do this by playing Montezuma Braves Football.
“A positive attitude in everything you do is key to whatever you want to do,” added Brand.