BELGRADE – A little over a month after Chris Grabowska resigned as head football coach, Manhattan has filled the position.
Wes Kragt, a former assistant coach for Grabowska, was hired by the school board Tuesday to take over the reins of the program.
A former standout quarterback at Huntley Project, Kragt becomes a first-time head football coach.
“Football’s always been a passion of mine and it’s what I played in college, so I’m looking forward to getting back out on the field,” he said.
Kragt has spent the past four years as head coach of the boys basketball program at Manhattan and guided the team to a state championship game appearance. But he resigned from the position during the school board meeting to focus on football.
“Unfortunately with how time-consuming coaching is nowadays it’s just tough to do more than one sport. So you just always want to put your focus in what your passion is, and that’s kind of one of the reasons why I switched over, ”Kragt said. “It’s going to be really tough to leave basketball and the program we built. We have a lot of young kids coming back that are excited for their next basketball season and their next chance, so hopefully we can get a coach in there that continues to build the program and continues to see Manhattan at the state tournament. ”
Under Kragt’s leadership, Manhattan had three winning seasons and advanced to the state tournament in each of the past two years. The 2020-21 squad finished as the State B runner-up to Lodge Grass with a 19-3 record.
The football team reached the championship game in 2019 and 2020 with Kragt as a member of the coaching staff. He spent three years as an assistant coach and was the offensive coordinator two years ago when the Tigers went 12-0 en route to winning the school’s first-ever state title.
Following a losing season this past fall, Kragt hopes to restore the program to its winning ways.
“We want to bring the enjoyment of the game of football back to our kids to start with and then just go in each week and try to get better and try to improve from year to year,” he said. “With how many kids we’ve lost over the last couple of years we’re going to have a lot of kids that don’t have experience that are going to have to step in and fill big roles. Hopefully we can coach them up and put them in the best position to succeed. ”
Kragt was the starting quarterback for Huntley Project when the team won the State B championship in 2008, and he was a two-year starter at the position for Black Hills State University in South Dakota.
Kragt began his coaching career at Bridger and served as offensive coordinator for three years with the 6-Man program. The Scouts advanced to the semifinals twice and lost to Westby-Grenora in the state championship game in 2017. He also served as the head boys basketball coach at Bridger.
Kragt became the head basketball coach at Manhattan in 2018 and then joined Grabowska’s staff. He stepped away from football last year to pursue a master’s degree.
Manhattan finished with a 2-6 record in 2021, the program’s first losing season since 2014, but was highly successful under Grabowska. He had a 56-24 record and advanced to the postseason six times in eight years.
“We graduated a lot of seniors from last year’s team. Looking at going into next year I think we’re only going to have three seniors go out. So we’re definitely going to have a young group filled with juniors and a lot of sophomores, ”said Kragt. “So I think it’s a year to learn what we have and gain some experience with our younger kids and just try to improve each week.”
Now that his hiring is official, Kragt has begun the process of assembling a coaching staff and setting up summer workouts and camps for the team.
“I’m excited to get out on the field with these guys and get into summer weather and get throwing and catching a football,” he said. “The fun part about football is placing the guys where they need to be as far as talent and skill-wise goes and there’s so many positions in football and a lot more to control. Just excited to get back out there again and call the offense and see what we can do. ”