Sept. 28, 1979
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