Denfeld News

Sept. 28, 1979
Duluth News Tribune

Marv Heikkinen: A knack for winning
By Mike Gill

The last time Marv Heikkinen lost a football game to one of the Duluth city teams was early 1972. That’s because, say opposing coaches, the Denfeld High School football coach knows how to win.

In nine seasons as head coach at Denfeld, Heikkinen has won three championships and has compiled a 54-20 career record.

This fall, nothing has changed.

The former UMD running back appears headed toward yet another championship, has his team off to a 3-0 Northern Lakes Conference start and a No. 10 ranking among state Class AA schools.

That’s the hat trick the Hunters and Heikkinen are going for — a conference title, a birth in the state playoffs, and a spot among the Top Ten Class AA teams in the state.

With only three starters back from an 8-1 team which finished behind powerhouse Hibbing a year ago, Heikkinen won an opener the Hunters weren’t supposed to. They defeated conference favorite Grand Rapids 7-6 to start the year, stumbled to St. Cloud Apollo a week later, but regrouped to win their next two straight in impressive style.

But that’s typical of what Denfeld fans have become accustomed to since Heikkinen took over the head coaching job in 1970. The 42-year-old ex-UMD running back joined Dick Forbort at Morgan Park after graduation and later held an assistant coaching job at Superior. After a year in California, he returned to Denfeld and won a Zenith City title in his third season.

“He’s one of the most dedicated coaches I’ve ever known,” said Forbort, who also coached at Central. “He always does his homework.”

Heikkinen places considerable emphasis on preparation and fundamentals. And considerable emphasis on the practice field.

“His greatest asset is his ability to organize and plan,” said Joe Donofrio, a former assistant at Denfeld. “He’ll spend hours looking at films, devising a game plan and figuring some way to beat a team. He just knows football inside out and knows how to teach it.

“On the field he doesn’t expect miracles, but he expects the same devotion from the kids as he has.”

They call him quiet and unassuming, but his football teams perform with wild emotion and enthusiasm.

“He makes players want to work for him,” said Doug Lein, a former quarterback at Denfeld and now an assistant under Heikkinen. “If you lose, you feel you let him down. You want to go out and play hard and win for him.”

Lien was a young junior at Denfeld when he earned the starting quarterback job. “I was worried about it, but he gave me the impression I was better than I was. He even let me call my own plays. He’s that way with his players. He always shows confidence in them.”

Forbort, who blocked for Heikkinen at UMD and later coached with him and against him, said the Denfeld coach “has a knack of keeping his teams up week after week.”

“He attacks the game with so much enthusiasm,” said Forbort. “He’s just got a way with players. He’s just sincere and dedicated and his teams are that way.”

Heikkinen and Denfeld face a non-conference foe — Superior Senior — Saturday night at Public Schools Stadium, then it’s on to the four city schools, the teams that have labored without success against Denfeld in the past seven seasons.

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