Wortman passed on college job and never looked back

August 17, 2018

Career record: 339-82

State playoff appearances: 30

State titles: 5 (B, 1989; B, ’92; B, ’96; B, ’99; B, 2011)

State runner-up: 5 (B, 1987; B, ’91; B, 2006; B, ’10; B, ’14)

Mark Wortman had a decision to make in the spring of 1980.

He had spent the 1979-80 school year as a graduate assistant coach with the Nebraska-Omaha football team, and it seemed his decision to leave Littleton (Colorado) Heritage High School — where he had been an assistant football coach for four years previous to that — was going to pay off.

Mavericks head coach Sandy Buda offered him the full-time defensive backs assistant job, the same time Wortman was also considering an offer to be the head coach at Elkhorn, then a rural Class B school.

“I had always thought I might want to get into college coaching someday, but being away from high school coaching for a year, I missed it, “ Wortman said.

“I’d never really heard of Elkhorn, but they told me just drive west out of town on Dodge Street and you’ll run into it,” he added. “I drove down Dodge Street and I’ve been here ever since.”

Wortman, a Lexington native, took the high school job in suburban Denver after graduating from Northern Colorado where he played college football. It turned out to be a great training ground for his time in Elkhorn as it transformed and blossomed into a growing suburban high school, much like Heritage was in the late 1970s.

Elkhorn played its home games the first 10 years at the middle school before building a stadium at the high school campus. It was a rural setting to the east when the stadium first opened, but gradually homes and businesses began popping up, a few each year.

Now it’s almost completely an urban backdrop looking out from stands on the west side.

“Now there’s a lake out there with houses around, it’s kind of cool setting on a football Friday night as the sun is setting,” said Wortman, who began teaching at Elkhorn the year the existing high school building opened.

Ever since, Wortman has taught American History and coached a ground-based style of football that has dominated Class B for four decades. And he still approaches each season with the same vigor and enthusiasm as he did in the fall of 1980.

“Every year I look forward to getting back on the football field and back in the classroom teaching American History,” said the 65-year-old Wortman, who has guided the Antlers to four undefeated state championships. “If people didn’t ask when I was going to retire, it wouldn’t cross my mind. There are so many new kids coming up every year. I look at the freshmen coming in and I think they need some help, they need some coaching, so my focus switches to this group.”

“It hasn’t gotten old yet. There will be a time when it hits me, but right now, it hasn’t,” he added. “There’s enough new things, different schedules, different rules, different players, different coaches, it keeps me going.”

Elkhorn moves up into Class A this season for the first time since the 2008-2009 scheduling cycle, the two years before Elkhorn South opened.

“That rejuvenates me and I know our kids and the community are excited about it, too,” he said.

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