All-Area Football Player of the Year: Navratil a cut above the rest

December 2, 2018

Josh Navratil mug — Pine IslandFootball 2018Josh Navratil

Josh Navratil went from 180 pounds as a junior to 205 this past football season.

Credit the Pine Island star’s desire to devour fine food for much of that. And credit Josh’s father, former Kahler Hotel chef John Navratil, for seeing to it that there are plenty of fine-dining experiences at the Navratil house.

Josh developed so much of a taste for food — and en route cooking, thanks to his father — that he spent his junior year trying to track down a college where he could pursue a Culinary Arts major while also playing football.

He didn’t come up with much. So he put the culinary idea away all while committing more heavily than ever to the college-football dream, as well as the dinner table.

It’s going to come true. The beefed-up (actually chickened-up — he’s a poultry guy) Navratil went from a college football prospect his junior season to a hotly-recruited one by spring as he kept getting bigger and faster.

In July, the running back/linebacker said yes to a Division I offer, committing to the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. The Fighting Hawks are eyeing him as a linebacker.

Navratil then spent the autumn months making the UND football folks thrilled that they landed him.

En route to rushing for 1,837 yards and 17 touchdowns as a running back, racking up 69 tackles as a linebacker/defensive lineman, and doing the punting and kicking for Pine Island, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Navratil also caught our attention. So much so that we’ve named him our 2018 Post Bulletin Player of the Year in football. That, out of a strong field that also included Dover-Eyota record-setting receiver/defensive back Jack Studer.

“We didn’t give Josh many chances to come off the field,” Pine Island coach John Stapleton said. “We put him in a lot of different places. When you’ve got a kid who is that good, you don’t want to take away what he can do for your team.”

Navratil wasn’t always “that” good. As a sophomore, he was sure he would play almost exclusively with the varsity. But it didn’t happen, and that might have made all the difference.

“That motivated me,” Navratil said. “But what I realized was that I wasn’t big enough. I was a skinny 6-1, 170.”


Navratil didn’t just eat his way to his eventual 205 pounds, he lifted his way there. Never was that truer than this past summer, when he showed up in the Pine Island weight room five days per week. After enjoying a breakthrough junior season in which he rushed for 1,250 yards, he trained harder than ever. He did it not just for himself, but for his team.

Navratil wanted to set an example of hard work for his Panthers teammates, the 2018 season in mind.

“No one thought we were going to be very good, and that really motivated us,” Navratil said. “Everybody thought we were going to lose every game. So I stepped up as a leader and wanted to push everyone. We started conditioning way earlier than we normally do. I liked it because my favorite part about football is the grind. I like doing the hard work and then having it pay off.”

Pine Island certainly didn’t lose every game. With Navratil leading the way, they finished 5-5, including a 40-35 upset win over Stewartville in the first round of the Section One, Class AAA playoffs. Navratil’s footprints were all over that one, with him rushing for 319 yards and also intercepting a pass and returning it for a touchdown. Pine Island’s season ended in the next round as it lost to eventual state champion Lourdes. But Navratil again was a beast, with 152 yards rushing.

Navratil spent the entire season showing that he could outsprint and outmuscle opponents. All of the conditioning he did over the summer paid off in both areas. That included him dropping his 40-yard dash time from 4.6 as a junior to 4.46 this season. Fifty-yard touchdowns sprints became routine for him. So did leveling would-be tacklers for the tough yards.

“Navratil was the best player I saw all year,” Lourdes coach Mike Kesler said. “His explosiveness and the way he hits the hole with that speed is the difference maker. Plus, he can run through you and then run away from you.”

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