COLUMBIA — On the football field, Hickman senior quarterback Doug Luetjen displays poise. It’s as if he was born to play the game.
As he hovers in the backfield looking for an open receiver, a defender emerges through the Kewpies’ offensive line untouched, running full speed toward Luetjen. No one stands between the two, and no one can come to Luetjen’s aid.
He’s able to find a receiver and complete a pass for a first down with time to spare, not even noticing the defender. He doesn’t have to play cautiously. He knows what he’s doing.
“I’m not really nervous at all,” Luetjen said. “It seems like it’s what I should’ve been doing for a while.”
That’s because Luetjen has been surrounded by Hickman football his entire life, ever since his father, Steve Luetjen, joined the Kewpies’ coaching staff in 1991. He said since he’s been born, he has always been a Hickman Kewpie.
“Ever since I can remember, I’ve been going to games with my mom and watching them,” Doug Luetjen said.
When he was a Hickman ball boy from fifth to eighth grade, Doug Luetjen experienced the atmosphere of Friday night football while spending some time with his father on the sidelines. He even had the opportunity to visit the Hickman locker room with the football players.
“It showed me what else they do before everyone else saw them,” Luetjen said of his locker room experiences. “I’ve always been around Hickman, even as a little kid, because my dad would be up there working, so I’d go with him and check things out.”
Even though Luetjen didn’t start playing contact football until the seventh grade in the Columbia Youth Football League, his father still had the time to coach him in soccer and basketball.
“He kind of coached me at everything I did in my life,” Luetjen said.
When Luetjen made his way to the varsity level for the Hickman football team, he continued to play for his father, the Kewpies’ offensive coordinator.
“I feel like I had an edge because he pushes me a little harder than everyone else, but I mean, it’s really nice that he’s there,” Doug Luetjen said.
Not only is Luetjen pushed by his father as a coach, but he is also able to discuss football off the field withthe elder Luetjen, something the other players don’t have a chance to do.
“Probably every night we talk about (football),” Luetjen said. “We talk about how practice went, what the upcoming team looks like, how the passing game went and what we can do better and what better plays we can run.”
Once it’s game time, however, his father says he tries to treat his son no differently than any of the other players.
“That’s really a tremendous challenge,” Steve Luetjen said. “Once (Doug) gets out there, the way I call the plays and the way the game works out, I don’t think about him being my son. I just think about him being the quarterback and trying to put our team in a position to score points.”
Hickman coach Jason Wright noticed Doug Luetjen has gained an expertise for the game that not many athletes get the chance to experience.
“I think his football IQ is probably higher than what normal people would have just because he’s been around the program,” Wright said. “From being around the program, I think he knew what to expect. He’s been around us coaches all of his life.”
Luetjen has had to overcome difficulty the past two seasons, suffering two ACL injuries, one to each knee, during the football season. He has decided to put off surgery on his right knee until after the season’s end, wanting a shot at playing one last season in high school. He said that if he knew he could play, he was going to play.
One special moment Luetjen and his father shared during the season was the Kewpies’ game at Hazelwood Central on Sept. 15. With Hickman trailing in the fourth quarter, Luetjen made the most of his first game back from injury, completing a touchdown pass with less than two minutes in the game to win the game for the Kewpies.
For Steve Luetjen, it was something special to be involved in his son’s first victory as Hickman’s starting quarterback, and being able to call the play that won the game.
“That was really one of the most special moments I’ve had,” he said. “It was really incredible because it was a situation where we were down by three points and I kind of rolled the dice. Things just worked out for the best to where he was able to throw that touchdown pass.”
As they work together on offense, Luetjen and his father have worked out a system to simplify calling the plays. Rather than sending in a new receiver to relay the call on every play, Steve Luetjen uses backup quarterback Matt Herman to signal the plays to the offense, similar to the system the MU football team uses.
“Matt knows all the signals, so he just relays them to me,” Doug Luetjen said.
Even though football is a common bond between Luetjen and his father, they enjoy other activities as well, such as hunting, golf and playing pool. Wright said it’s their similarities that strengthen the bond they share.
“I think both of them are very tedious, discipline-type people,” Wright said. “I think that they have a special relationship because when they’re off the field, I do catch them teasing one another and that type of stuff.”
According to Luetjen’s mother, Beth Luetjen, the relationship between him and his father is set apart from other father-son relationships because they share many common interests. It’s something she has enjoyed seeing unfold over the years.
“I think all fathers with sons, if they’re close, they have a good relationship,” she said. “My husband and Doug have had a close relationship all through because they enjoy doing the same things together and have been involved together. No matter what happens through the season, I think that they will have a strong tie with their relationship, no matter whether they win or they lose.”