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GALLAGHER: Gehlen Jay soars from Huskers to Super Bowl Eagles

MERRILL, Iowa | Shaun Huls made an impact on Bruce Ludwig in 1995 as the Gehlen Catholic Jays of Le Mars, Iowa, marched toward a state football championship. At the time, Huls a senior, played guard on the offensive line coached by Ludwig.

TGallagher / Provided 

Shaun Huls visits with his mother, Dianne Huls, of Merrill, Iowa, prior to the Philadelphia Eagles game in Kansas City, Missouri, this fall.

"Oh, goodness, I remember Shaun," Ludwig told me on Wednesday. "You could not miss Shaun. When we won the state title, we were big on the line in every spot except for Shaun. I remember teams playing us would look at our linemen who were all around 6-feet 2-inches tall and 200 pounds.

"And then there was Shaun," Ludwig added. "He was only 5-feet 9-inches, but people found out real fast he made up for any height and size he didn't have."

Huls worked hard. He studied schemes, finished plays. To perform on the field, he needed to be sharp and fit, traits that continue to serve him today as the athletes he directs, the Philadelphia Eagles, take the field for Super Bowl LII on Sunday against the New England Patriots.

Huls, 40, serves the organization as director of high performance. He joined the NFL team five years ago as its sports science coordinator.

"Shaun oversees the strength and conditioning, the nutrition and sports science staff for the Eagles," said Huls' mother, Dianne Huls, of Merrill, Iowa. "We're all so excited for him and the team to be in the Super Bowl."

I contacted Huls on Monday, but team rules prohibited him from speaking with the media. So, I called his mother and one of his fomer Gehlen mentors to get the skinny on how this Gehlen alum has landed in the center of preparations for the Super Bowl.

After his graduation -- and the earning of a state football championship trophy at Gehlen -- Shaun Huls headed to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln where he landed a position within the Husker Power program, which operated under Boyd Epley. Huls worked as a graduate assistant before being hired full-time to conduct strength and conditioning measures for both the Huskers baseball and football programs.

In 2002, Huls took a position at the University of Nevada, working again with football and baseball teams. He then headed to Hampton University as the school's head strength coach.

"Shaun was at Hampton for five years," his mother said. "And then he became strength and conditioning coordinator and combative coordinator for the U.S. Navy SEALS at Virginia Beach, Virginia."

Working with the Navy SEAL Teams at Naval Special Warfare, said Dianne Huls, represented a dream job for her younger of two sons. "Shaun was always interested in the military," she said.

He would stay until 2013, as that's when former Oregon coach Chip Kelly was hired to coach the Eagles. Kelly's Nebraska connections led to a contact and then an interview with Huls, who landed the job as sports science coordinator, which he did for three years until being made director of high performance two seasons ago.

Huls, who resides with his family in nearby New Jersey, has an office in the team complex and travels with the team when it goes on the road. That, of course, means he's in the Twin Cities this week as the Eagles prepare for their third Super Bowl in club history.

TGallagher / Provided 

Shaun Huls is shown with his family after the Eagles won the NFC title contest over the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago. At left is his wife, Minisa. In front is son, Kenji, and to the right is daughter Misa.

Huls' wife, Minisa, and their two children will attend the game, as will his mother, his brother, Paul Huls, and Paul's family, of Sioux City. Many of them have been guests of Shaun at past games.

"A couple of months ago, Shaun said, 'Mom, keep this in the back of your mind: The Super Bowl will be in Minneapolis.'"

Dianne, who works for the Le Mars Insurance Company, said this will be her fifth game of the NFL season. She enjoyed previous Eagles games against the Chiefs, Redskins, Raiders and Cowboys.

"I'm an Eagles fan," she said. "Shaun's brother, Paul, is an Eagles fan, as are our families. The team has had quite a season."

Dianne said the family will likely think of her husband and Shaun's father, Dale Huls, on this special Super Bowl Sunday. Dale Huls, a Cornhuskers and Eagles fan, died last June, ending a nine-year battle against cancer. The owner/operator of a sheet metal fabrication company, Dale Huls was 68.

"Dale would be so proud of Shaun," Dianne said.

Bruce Ludwig recalled Dale's influence on the Jays program in the mid-1990s when Shaun played as the undersized lineman with the oversized work ethic. Dale Huls put his skills to work to benefit the team during a couple of chilly post-season playoff runs.

"Dale took some barrels he welded and cut holes in them," Ludwig said. "He painted it Gehlen colors and put a big heater at the end of it. That heating unit was pretty big stuff for us back then."

It was his way of making sure his team reached its potential. In many ways, it's what his son, Shaun, does today.

Iowa’s acting lieutenant settles into his unique role

ANKENY, Iowa |  Eight months ago, Adam Gregg was working in relative anonymity as the state’s public defender, responsible for ensuring low-income Iowans are provided legal representation in court matters.

Then he was suddenly thrust into the middle of a transition at the very top of the state’s leadership, not to mention a legal debate over the powers of his new job.

Public defender one day, lieutenant governor the next.

Eight months later, Gregg, a Hawarden, Iowa, native, says he has become accustomed to the pace of his new position as the state’s acting lieutenant governor, second in command to Gov. Kim Reynolds.

And he said he harbors no disappointment nor ill will over the fact he holds the position but not its normal standing in the state’s line of succession.

On this day, Gregg is speaking to a young professionals’ group in the Des Moines suburb of Ankeny, telling how he was overwhelmed to be in the Iowa Capitol with his family, including his daughter, to hear the first Iowa condition of the state address to be given by a female governor.

“I’ve compared it to stepping onto a rocket ship,” Gregg said.

Gregg served under former Gov. Terry Branstad as a liaison to state legislators and policy advisory. In 2014 he was the Republican nominee for state attorney general; he lost that election to longtime Democratic incumbent Tom Miller.

After the 2014 election, Branstad named Gregg public defender, a role in which he served until the summer of 2017, when a political transition swept Gregg into the highest level of the administration.

New President Donald Trump appointed Branstad to serve as U.S. ambassador to China, and Reynolds was promoted to governor.

As Reynolds prepared for the transition, questions were raised over whether she would have the legal authority under the state’s laws and Constitution, to appoint a new lieutenant governor.

Miller issued a formal legal opinion that the state Constitution does not grant that authority to a governor who was promoted from lieutenant.

That legal opinion was met with backlash from some Iowa Republicans, who accused the Democratic attorney general of forming a politically motivated opinion.

The newly minted Reynolds administration opted against challenging the legal opinion and named Gregg as lieutenant governor without placing him in the line of succession, making Gregg an acting lieutenant governor. Should Reynolds vacate the office for any reason, Jack Whitver, the Iowa Senate President, would become governor.

Gregg insists he is fine with the arrangement.

“It has been a non-issue, seriously,” Gregg said during a recent interview with the bureau. “It has just been an absolute non-issue. We operate the same way that we otherwise would, with minor exceptions like I don’t have a trooper detail. Other than that, I’m in the all the same meetings that I would be. Other than that, the governor asks my advice the same way she otherwise would.”

True to form as the governor’s top assistant, Gregg praised Reynolds for her solution to the legal quandary surrounding his position.

“I thought it was a very politically astute decision by Gov. Reynolds to find a way to get everything that she wanted out of (the position) and to totally deflate the arguments against it,” Gregg said. “And I think it’s a window into the way that she is going to lead our state and has been leading our state. She has a way of being able to find creative solutions to problems that other people can’t see. And I think that was Exhibit A of that on Day 1 of our administration.”

Gregg said he has embraced his role in helping Reynolds daily and spreading her vision across the state. He said he appreciates the opportunity to work as Reynolds’ partner in the administration, especially when he sees lieutenant governors from other states who are not as involved in their administrations, he said.

“It just makes me appreciate it that much more because it gives me that opportunity to be more involved, more influential, have a very meaningful role in improving the state of Iowa,” Gregg said.

One of the first tasks with which Reynolds has charged Gregg is an initiative to help struggling rural Iowa communities. Reynolds laid out the initiative earlier this month during her first condition of the state address.

Gregg said he has been meeting with community, business and organization leaders in order to fully grasp the issues facing Iowa’s small towns with the hopes of developing a way to provide new programs or streamline existing ones to help those small towns retain their residents.

Gregg said he wants to encourage business investment in rural Iowa, help those small towns’ populations grow, and help foster more investment in high-speed internet access in those areas.

He acknowledged the challenge of combating a migration from rural to urban areas that is happening not only across Iowa but across the country. In Iowa from 2010 to 2016 the largest population growth happened in the state’s most populous counties — Polk, Dallas, Story, Warren, Linn, Johnson, Scott, Jefferson and Dubuque — while 79 of the state’s 99 counties saw a decrease in population, according to the state’s nonpartisan data agency.

“There are definitely some economic and demographic trends and headwinds that underlie some of this. So that makes it challenging because there may be little that government can do about that,” Gregg said. “But that doesn’t mean that rural Iowa isn’t worth fighting for. I think it absolutely is. And it’s worth continuing to find ways so there’s prosperity there and opportunity to grow Iowa.”

Gregg said he hopes to help promote Iowa in a way that makes young people consider staying after they graduate from college, and that he would like to find a way to reconnect with young people who have moved away and may consider returning to Iowa.

“I think we can find a better way as a state of communicating with young people who have chased that opportunity out of state and maybe would consider coming back. You might chase that high-paying job in Chicago or Milwaukee or New York or what have you, but once you get to a point in your life where you’re ready to settle down and have kids ... at that point I think Iowa and specifically small town Iowa starts to look pretty darn good,” Gregg said. “So I wonder if there is a way that we can identify folks who have done that and communicate with them about the opportunities that are available here.”

Gregg also must perform the role of co-campaigner as Reynolds seeks her first elected term as governor. After the legislative session ends sometime this spring, that role will increase for Gregg as the Reynolds-Gregg ticket first looks to survive a Republican primary challenge. Should they win that, it would be on to what is expected to be a hotly contested general election until the ballots are cast in November.

Gregg said he is not only ready, but embraces the challenge. He said he expects to campaign alongside Reynolds but also at times on his own in order to cover more ground across the state.

“I’m invigorated by it,” Gregg said. “I like getting out there and meeting with Iowans and learning about the companies that are doing cool things that have a reach that you’d never expect. And I’m looking forward to getting out there and advocating. That’s kind of who I am at the end of the day. I’m an advocate. I feel like that’s a skill set that I bring to the table.

“So that’s what gets me fired up, is the opportunity to go out and advocate for a position and advocate for our vision and advocate that the governor (Reynolds) is the right person for the job.”

Despite opposition, Awesome Biker Nights plans return to Sioux City's Historic Fourth

SIOUX CITY | Despite facing opposition from several area businesses earlier this winter, Awesome Biker Nights plans to return to the Historic Fourth District for its 19th year of festivities.

The committee that organizes the annual motorcycle rally and concert fundraiser will ask the City Council on Monday to approve street and sidewalk closures for the June 14-16 event. 

Organizers of the charity event had discussed moving to an alternate location in December after receiving a letter listing 10 Historic Fourth businesses that asked the group to move the event elsewhere. Some of the businesses later clarified they had been listed in error

The letter, dated Nov. 28 and sent to the Awesome Biker Nights committee and to city leaders, said the listed businesses didn't want their street and storefronts blocked by the biker rally.

In response, the committee reached out to Historic Fourth Street merchants and gathered signatures of support from 11 other Historic Fourth businesses, according to a city document. 

The document lists those businesses as Heidman Law Firm, Western Equity Group, U Drive Acceptance Corp., Buffalo Alice, The Marquee, American National Insurance, Harris Rebar, Teasers, Rox & Rails, 1008 Key Club and Aalfs Manufacturing. 

Those listed in opposition include SoHo Kitchen & Bar, M's on Fourth, Studio 427, Rebos, The Diving Elk, Ave Med Spa and Antiques on Fourth. 

City staff see no issues with the Awesome Bikers Night's request and are recommending the council approve the street and sidewalk closures. Construction on a new Courtyard by Marriott hotel on the current Sioux City Convention Center parking lot will not conflict with the event, according to the document.

Awesome Biker Nights board chairman Brian Hall and a handful of Historic Fourth Street business owners contacted by the Journal were not immediately available for comment Thursday evening.

The rally has attracted thousands of people to downtown Sioux City each summer for live music, a bike show and other events for nearly two decades. All proceeds generated at the rally benefit charity organizations. It has raised more than $1.1 million during its existence.

Awesome Biker Nights returned to Historic Fourth Street in 2017 after holding its 2016 rally at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino's Battery Park and adjacent Fifth and Pearl streets.

The 2016 move to the opposite end of downtown came after some Historic Fourth Street businesses voiced concern about barricades that were placed around their entrances, blocking access to the street because they had declined to pay the $1,500 fee to participate in the event, which includes paid admission for a series of concerts.