Marinette High School Yearbook
Dan Messenger (left) and Dan Kitkowski combine to turn a double play.
Marinette High School Yearbook
Dan Messenger (left) and Dan Kitkowski combine to turn a double play.

Editor’s note: The Marinette High School Athletic Hall of Fame will induct five new members and one team at a ceremony on Oct. 13 at Little River Country Club. Next week, the EagleHerald will feature one inductee on Monday and another on Tuesday. Tickets for the HOF banquet are on sale in the Marinette High School Main Office.

MARINETTE — Dan Messenger was a coach’s dream — athletic, quick, intelligent and humble, while also bringing out the best in others around him.

Setting the standard for his younger brothers Mike and Jeff, Dan followed his father’s lead of continuing a great tradition of the iconic Messenger name and will be honored for his stellar career by being inducted into the Marinette High School Athletic Hall of Fame on Oct. 13.

Starring in both football and baseball, Dan had a knack for shining in big moments and helping guide the Marines to many successful athletic seasons.

“His strength and speed were amazing,” said Sam Hogan, who was the head coach in baseball for Messenger as well as an assistant coach in football. “He was a tall, lanky guy that could run. He was the best center fielder out there and he was just the quarterback you want for the wishbone offense.”

Messenger quarterbacked the 1977 Marinette Marines to a No. 6 ranking in the final Class A state poll.

That season, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound senior led the Marines to a Bay Conference title while rushing for 520 yards and nine touchdowns. He also threw for 679 yards, averaged 24.5 yards on 11 punt returns and anchored the secondary of the league’s best defense.

To cap off the season, Messenger rushed for 169 yards and two touchdowns in Marinette’s 28-6 M&M Game victory.

Only four teams earned playoff spots during that era, and though the Marines finished with a 9-1 record and were conference champions, they missed out on a playoff berth.

Mike Strehlow, who is a news anchor at CBS 58 in Milwaukee, graduated with Messenger and also played football with him, and remembers that night like it was yesterday.

“That was such a tough game to lose because we had a great team,” Strehlow said. “We won the rest of our games that season and “Mess” was a big part of our success.”

Strehlow went on praise Messenger for not only his athleticism, but the way he guided the football team, especially his senior year, that had talent all over the field.

“It’s not easy to run the wishbone offense and with the likes of players such as Dale Lueskow, Curt Lock, Terry Kasten and so on and have the ability to distribute the ball to everyone,” Strehlow said. “Dan had deceptive speed. If he got out in front of you, good luck running him down.”

Messenger started at wide receiver and defensive back as a junior and was a reserve on Marinette’s outstanding 1975 team.

His football career was noticed by more than just the local area, as he was recruited by several colleges before deciding to play for the Wisconsin Badgers.

“Growing up, I idolized a lot of football players that had great careers for Marinette,” Messenger said. “I never understood why recruiters came to see me play because there were so many talented players, but it was a dream to play for the Badgers.”

After redshirting his freshman year, Messenger started as a defensive back and returned punts for the Badgers in 1979 and 1980 before suffering a career-ending knee injury.

“I always wonder what my career would be like if not for the injury, because I was getting stronger and had experience,” said Messenger. “It was the time of my life playing football for the Badgers. The memories along with friends I made along the way I’ll cherish forever.”

On the ball diamond, Messenger was also a star and started three years on varsity at pitcher, shortstop and center field.

As the leadoff batter, he ignited the Marine offense and batted .507 as a junior and nearly the same average his senior season.

Hogan still talks about one of the games that Messenger nearly single-handedly won for the Marines.

“I don’t remember who we were playing, but the game was scoreless in the seventh inning and Dan was leading off,” said Hogan. “I saw that the third basemen was playing back, so I told him to lay a bunt down. He not only set down a perfect bunt and reached first, but he stole second and third and scored on a groundout to second to guide us to victory. Those were the type of little things he did all the time.”

Messenger acknowledged that baseball was his favorite sport, he especially enjoyed legion ball. As a senior, he was chosen to play in the Legion state all-star game where he earned the most valuable player honors at County Stadium.

“I think I was a better baseball player and I definitely liked it more than football because I thought there was less pressure,” Messenger said. “I lived at the park and loved to pitch. When I played at the all-star game, the Brewers had drafted Robin Yount that season and he was the same age as me and at the park that day.”

Pitching was Messenger’s favorite part of baseball and his fast ball was nearly unhittable as he was clocked at just over 90 MPH.

Also in his senior year, Messenger received the Tom Johnson Memorial Award at the Marine all-sports awards program.

Collectively agreed by all who speak of him, Messenger was respected by teammates and loved by coaches.

“I know I speak for the class of 1978 when I say we’re thrilled for Dan to join his brothers in the hall of fame,” Strehlow said. “It is well-deserved and I’m proud to not only call him a teammate, but a friend.”