CEDAR RAPIDS – The footsteps are big ones to follow, but at least there is company.
Cousins Clayton, Jake and Lars Bjornsen carry on the family tradition of Cedar Rapids Washington football together that started by their fathers, who graced Warrior teams of the 1980′s.
The family trio will try to put their own stamp on the program Thursday during a Mississippi Valley Conference contest when Washington faces Class 4A fourth-ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier at Kingston Stadium. The game between the Warriors (1-4) and Saints (5-0) can be seen on KCRG 9.2, starting at 7 p.m.
Jake Bjornsen is the son of Greg Bjornsen, who was a second-team all-state performer for the Warriors in 1980. Lars Bjornsen’s dad, Steve, was a first-team all-state selection in 1984 for Washington. Clayton Bjornsen’s dad, Kevin, also played Warrior football, earning all-state honors in 1986. Pictures of the Bjornsen Brothers hang with past Warrior all-state athletes outside one of Washington’s gymnasiums.
“It’s pretty special to know that our dads made that big of an impact,” Jake Bjornsen said. “It’s cool seeing your dad’s name on the wall. It gives you motivation to be like him.”
Even though there is some pressure to continue the family’s success within the football program, Lars Bjornsen recalled showing off the symbols of family feats.
“I feel proud of it because I was little walking around the hallways I used to tell my friends that my dad and uncles were up there,” Lars Bjornsen said. “I’d always show their pictures on the wall and was happy to see them.”
Warrior football has been a staple of the Bjornsens for many years. All three attended Washington football games when they were younger, anticipating their chance to take the field their fathers played. Warrior football remains important to three generations.
“Our grandparents come out to all our games,” Clayton Bjornsen said. “They love that we’re a part of it, too.”
The dynamic between father and son varies with each duo when it comes to claims of superiority. Jake Bjornsen said he has seen newspaper articles from his dad’s playing days, but neither have claimed to be better.
“He never brings it up,” Jake Bjornsen said. “He keeps on motivating me to keep pushing.”
Clayton Bjornsen has seen video of his dad play. They share a good-natured dispute as to who has more talent.
“He says he’s always going to be a little bit better than me,” Clayton Bjornsen said. “We’ll see, I guess.”
Lars Bjornsen hasn’t even attempted the argument, but aspires to reach the level his dad did for the Warriors.
“I hope some day I can say I’m better than my dad,” said Lars Bjornsen, whose older brother, Alec, also played football for Washington. “I want to put in the work, so I can say that so I have bragging rights over my dad.”
They had their own battles with one another. Holidays and other occasions would regularly be accompanied by athletic contests. They ranged from friendly fun to out-right battles.
“It was a little of both,” Lars Bjornsen said. “We always want to win, but we have fun competing against each other.”
From games at the house to games at Kingston Stadium, they have climbed the ranks together. Their family tradition is enhanced by sharing it with two cousins in the same grade. They have had to take one another on in practice.
“As kids, we were always playing out in the yard,” Jake Bjornsen said. “I think it’s cool that competitively now we’re on the same team.”
Lars added, “It means a lot. I like working with my cousins.”
All three have their specific impact on the Warriors. Jake has made his presence felt on defense, leading the team with 38 total tackles including 30 solo and two solo tackles for loss. Clayton is third on the team in receiving with 79 yards on eight catches. Lars plays a role on special teams.
“Every one of them is extremely successful. They’re all contributing,” said Lombardi, adding, “All in all, for three different kids from three different families to make that kind of contribution as juniors at the varsity level in the MVC, at a program traditionally is one of the best programs around, that is a heck of an accomplishment.”
Jake has a nose for the ball, leading the team in fumble recoveries and playing the “Hawk” position, a hybrid between a linebacker and safety. Lombardi recognized his potential during the summer and has been pleased with his play in that spot so far.
“I said this kid is as good as we’ve had there in a long time,” Lombardi said. “He’s doing a terrific job.”
Clayton has made huge gains from last season, according to Lombardi. He has grown and become faster. Lombardi said he would like to see Clayton utilized more in the offense.
“His speed has come way down. He’s worked his butt off,” Lombardi said. “He’s done all kinds of things to give himself his best opportunity to be a starter and has started every game for us.”
Lombardi complimented Lars, calling him a wonderful person.
“He’s definitely going to be a successful varsity starter,” Lombardi said. “He has a good skill set.”
Of course, he would share that with members of his family. Just like the pride in the Warrior football tradition.
“We watched all those games as a kid and now you’re finally out there playing for them, wearing the jersey,” Jake Bjornsen said. “It’s a neat thing going out on Friday nights under the lights and representing Warrior football.”