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Monday, October 11, 2004
Updated: October 12, 3:58 PM ET
Small Iowa high school produces four NFL players

Associated Press

PARKERSBURG, Iowa -- One small school, four large pro football players.

At Aplington-Parkersburg High School, the numbers stretch credulity. This school with about 250 students, in a town of just 1,900 people surrounded by farmland in northeast Iowa, has put four players in the NFL.

Centers Casey Wiegmann of Kansas City and Brad Meester of Jacksonville and defensive ends Jared DeVries of Detroit and Aaron Kampman of Green Bay all starred for Aplington-Parkersburg during a 10-year stretch from 1988 on.

It's a place where each game is rehashed until the next one starts and the high school team is so revered that townsfolk call the football field the "Sacred Acre."

Yes, football is big in these parts. But still, four NFL players?

If the state's largest school, West Des Moines Valley with 2,400 students, had the same ratio of alums in the NFL as Aplington-Parkersburg, it would have 38 players in the league.

"It's hard to believe," Meester said. "But if you really take a strong look at it, the kind of work ethic, the kind of things that come through that program, you can see it's very possible."

Wiegmann was the first to make it. He graduated in 1991 -- it was just Parkersburg High School then -- played at Iowa and began his pro career as a free agent with Indianapolis in 1996. He has been a fixture in the Kansas City line since 2001.

"He was the trailblazer," Kampman said. "Then it was DeVries, then Meester, then me. Obviously, I had something to look at and know it was something I could shoot for."

DeVries graduated from Aplington-Parkersburg in 1994, Meester in 1995 and Kampman in 1998. Meester played college ball at Northern Iowa, the two others at Iowa.

"If you look at the four, we're all offensive or defensive linemen," DeVries said. "We're not real flashy."

That goes back to their high school, where Ed Thomas is in his 31st year as coach. Thomas is 245-57 at the school with 15 playoff appearances, two state championships and four second-place finishes.

He has done it with an approach he describes as "plain vanilla." Thomas' teams run the ball and then run it some more. In one recent game, the Falcons rushed for 586 yards. After five games this season, they had thrown just 18 passes.

"There's two ways to look at football," Kampman said. "You can do multiple things, run multiple formations. Or you can really try to hone down on doing a couple of things and doing them perfectly. I believe that's the philosophy at Aplington-Parkersburg."

Thomas strips football to its basics -- blocking, tackling and execution.

"We would drill and drill and drill," Kampman said, chuckling at the memory.

Along with the fundamentals, the school has equipped its weight room so well that someone walking in there during the spring or summer might find Kampman, DeVries, Meester or Wiegmann working out.

"I don't have to go anywhere else," Meester said. "I can work out at the high school and get everything I need."

And what an example for the current players who lift alongside them.

"That's exactly what it is," said Landon Schrage, an Aplington-Parkersburg graduate who plays at Iowa State. "The kids that start football in middle school and high school ... they see firsthand it can actually happen if you put hard work into it."

Because of the four, the Chiefs, Jaguars, Lions and Packers have a new fan base. Tom Teeple, who operates a one-man barbershop in downtown Parkersburg, is a lifelong Chicago Bears fan, but when one of the Aplington-Parkersburg guys is playing, he's watching.

"It's unmeasurable what they've done for our community," said Teeple, who had Wiegmann, Meester and Kampman on the youth basketball teams he coached. "You go to other towns and say you're from Aplington-Parkersburg and people know about those guys."

Delbert Huisman, a retired factory worker in Parkersburg, makes sure he doesn't miss a thing when the four are playing. He has four televisions and the NFL package with his satellite service, so if they're playing at the same time, he can watch them all.

"If somebody wants to watch something else, I'm sorry. They have to go somewhere else," Huisman said. "Those guys have got priority on the TV."

Iowa has many small-town football success stories, starting with the Hilgenbergs of Wilton, a community of 2,800 in eastern Iowa. Wally Hilgenberg and his brother Jerry played in the NFL in the 1950s and '60s. Jerry's sons Jay and Joel also became NFL players.

Oakland Raiders lineman Robert Gallery, the No. 2 pick in this year's draft, grew up on a farm near Masonville, population 104.

Arizona Cardinals teammates LeVar Woods and Kyle Vanden Bosch both played at West Lyon High near Inwood (population 875) in northwest Iowa; Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark is from Livermore (431), New York Jets safety Derek Pagel is from Plainfield (438) and Seattle Seahawks tight end Ryan Hannam came from St. Ansgar (1,031).

"It goes to show that we have good, solid programs for our students, whether it's a small school or it's a large school," said Rick Wulkow, assistant executive director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association. "But to think one of our schools has four players in the NFL is just amazing."