New coach Pat Larson on Kernel football job: 'This is where I want to be'
To call Larson a Kernel lifer feels accurate. He graduated from MHS in 1991 and aside from his time at Dakota State University as a student, he’s lived nearly his entire life in Mitchell.
MITCHELL — He didn’t know it three months ago but Pat Larson’s coaching aspirations were about to go to the pinnacle of his career.
As someone who has thrived coaching lower-level Mitchell High School teams and helping in the background, Larson was content with his role. But when longtime head football coach Kent Van Overschelde resigned in February, Larson was convinced by his wife, Angie, that this was his chance to run a program.
On Wednesday, that chance became reality, with MHS naming Larson, 50, as the school’s newest football coach ahead of the 2023 season.
“This was an opportunity that I never really expected,” Larson told the Mitchell Republic this week. “When I got involved with coaching 19 years ago, it was a chance to give back to the program and to the community and to give kids the great opportunities that I had coming through school as a kid growing up. I was perfectly happy being behind the scenes … but my wife said, 'You’re never going to get another opportunity like this.' It was an opportunity for me to give back and move to the forefront and be leading it rather than being the guy running around behind the scenes.”
To call Larson a Kernel lifer feels accurate. He graduated from MHS in 1991 and aside from his time at Dakota State University as a student, he’s lived nearly his entire life in Mitchell. On the football staff, Larson has done nearly every job that a Kernel assistant football coach can do, coaching the freshman and junior varsity teams, plus serving as a varsity-level assistant under Van Overschelde, to whom Larson said he owes his entire coaching career.
“He’s given me every opportunity to do what I wanted to do with the program and he’s challenged me to do more,” Larson said.
As for his philosophy, Larson said there will be some similarities to Van Overschelde but said he believes in emphasizing a collaborative approach to coaching. He said he's also going to try to continue to connect with students at a personal level, something he's been able to do as an assistant coach.
“I might be the out-front face of the program but I’m not arrogant enough to say that we’re going to do things my way or else,” Larson said. “I’m a team guy and I stress that to our kids. … We’re going to make changes where things will help us and we might do some things similar to the way they’ve been done previously.”
Larson is only the sixth Kernel head coach in the state’s playoff era of high school football, which began in 1981. Kernel fans know that in part because Larson has worked tediously in recent years to update the school’s football record books, filling in the details of more than 40 years of MHS football and continuing to research past teams and seasons.
“Most people who know me know that when it comes to sports, they know I’m a stat-head. I’m not a numbers guy in life but a big numbers guy in sports,” Larson said. “There’s something great about that tradition that it brings out. I graduated from Mitchell High School and I’ve been around this school since I was 12 years old when we moved to Mitchell, so I know a lot of the names in those record books.”
The Kernels were 2-7 last season and missed the postseason for the first time in a decade. Larson said he’s eager to build MHS football and he was inspired by a presentation at the South Dakota Football Coaches Association clinic in March in Brookings, when a coach from Nebraska talked about building his program and making an effort to connect with potential athletes at the elementary level, connecting them with the current players on the team and building relationships that make students want to be on the team.
“At that point, I had applied for the job and I thought that’s exactly what we need to do here,” he said. “We want kids to grow up with excitement about Kernel football. … We need the numbers to compete and that starts young. If you have competition in practice and guys have to work and compete in practice, that’s going to make Friday nights so much better. Instead of getting to Friday night and saying, ‘These guys are really good,’ you’re able to get there and you know you can compete.”
For the 2021-22 school year, Mitchell had 135 kids out for football in grades 7-12, with 50 of those being in grades 10-12 (which traditionally makes up the varsity roster). The 2022-23 varsity roster finished the season with 52 players in grades 10-through-12, sixth-largest out of the 11 Class 11AA teams in 2022.
Larson knows the work that is ahead of him but he said his commitment to the Kernel program won’t be surpassed.
“I don’t know if I’d say it like this, but I’ve arrived,” Larson said of earning the top job. “There’s no ideas of going on to a higher level. This is it. This is where I want to be. This is my hometown and I want to put my stamp on this program and make it as strong as it can be.”