Friday, April 19, 2013

SHOUP SHOTS: Coaching goes far beyond the x's and o's

By Nathan Shoup, Sports Editor 

When you stop and think, it is truly amazing how many lives just one person can impact.
   
Frosty Westering passed away last Friday. This school, this city, this region and this world are all better off because of him.

He preached the importance of family and oneness otherwise known as EMAL (Every Man A Lute). And it worked. He is one of the winningest college football coaches of all time.
   
The culture of this school did not happen by accident. Holding doors open for a classmate behind you and the overall sense of community and pride in being a Lute — it was all Frosty. His coaching career ended in 2003, but he continues to positively affect the entire campus.
   
I met Frosty once. I was a senior in high school visiting campus with my parents, both of whom are PLU graduates. My dad told me there was somebody I needed to meet. There is no real need to guess who that person was.
   
To be honest, I can’t recall exactly what was said in my exchange with Frosty. At that point in time, I just thought I was meeting the former PLU head football coach. I met someone much larger than that on that afternoon. I met a legend.
   
Even though I can’t remember what we talked about, I can remember walking away, amazed at the respect he showed me, a mere senior in high school. That was who Frosty was though. One of his famous expressions was “making the big time where you are.”
  
And Frosty made each moment “the big time.” When he met me, it was the big time. Anything he did was the big time.
   
Pacific Lutheran is a small liberal arts private school tucked into the northwest corner of the country, and yet it is known on a much larger scale — because of Frosty. He is PLU. He always will be.
   
Frosty changed my life.
   
As a lifelong athlete myself, Frosty’s passing made me think about the impact my coaches have had on my life. And they have each played a role in molding the man I am today — some small, some large.
   
When I was a sophomore in high school, playing just my second year of football, a new assistant coach walked onto the field at the start of two-a-days.
   
He was a young guy in his mid-20s and introduced himself as Josiah Wilfong. He said he had attended our rival high school and played college football at a few schools, the largest being the University of Washington.
   
Still much shyer on the field than I would have admitted then, I clung to Wilfong. He became my mentor on the field.
   
He is one of the most competitive people I have ever met and probably will ever meet. I was competitive before him, but he taught me not to settle for second best.
   
“I don’t care if I’m playing patty cake. I will beat you,” he always said, half joking and half serious.
   
He was also named our head baseball coach at the start of the sophomore season.
   
I broke my arm in the first game of my junior football season against Wilfong’s former high school. A defensive lineman jumped on my back and my right arm could not hold the weight after hitting the turf.
   
In shock, I got up and jogged to the sideline. He was the first person to greet me. As we sat there on the bench waiting for the ambulance, he joked around with me to try to get my mind off the pain.
   
While most stood around me in awe of my arm, which in all honesty was disgusting, he acted like it was no big deal and had a casual conversation with me.
  
 He played left-handed catch with me at every practice for the duration of my junior year. And you better believe we made it a competition by the end of the year to see who could throw the ball furthest with their off-hand. We still debate the winner of the contest today.
   
Two years later, I graduated high school. I believed my athletic career was over. I didn’t think I was good enough to play at the next level. Wilfong called me into the locker room and sat me down. He didn’t ask if I was interested in playing college baseball or recommend that I try to play. He told me I was going to play.
   
Now a senior and preparing for my last home game ever at PLU on Sunday, I can honestly say I would not be in this spot without him. Playing collegiate baseball is one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. He made it possible.
   
Wilfong gave me the courage and the confidence to be where I am at today.
   
He changed my life.
   
As I prepare to say goodbye to the game I fell in love with when I was 4 years old, I think about the influence Frosty had on so many. And I think about how Wilfong changed the course of my life.
   
Coaches everywhere are changing athletes’ lives at this very moment. Coaches changed my life. One day I will change someone else’s.
   
Coach Nathan. It has a ring to it.