Forever My Coach
This week I lost a very important person in my life. After a long fight with cancer my high school football coach Dan Stanton passed away. Ever since hearing the news about Coach I have been flooded with emotions. I have so many things I want to say about such a great man, but have been struggling to find the words to do him justice. He was a man who brought out the best in those around him. He led by example, showed you the value of hard work and perseverance and, he was a father figure to at least two young boys growing up. It’s hard for me to describe the significance of Coach Stanton’s involvement in my life and the life of so many other young men. However, a story comes to mind that might help me find the words.
The story takes place when I was going to college at Montana State University. I was in a class, I don’t recall which one exactly, but my professor was lecturing about leadership and what makes a good leader. In the middle of his lecture the professor approached me out of the blue and asked, “James, have you ever had that one special coach who really impacted you in a big way?” Well, you know what I said. “Yes, my high school football coach, Coach Stanton.”
Then, the professor continued, “Would you have done anything for Coach Stanton? Would you have run through a brick wall for him without thinking twice?” I laughed and said, “Of course, I have game tape to prove it.” The professor smiled and the class laughed. When they quieted down, the professor turned back to me and calmly asked, “Why?” This question caught me a little off guard. When I struggled to answer the question, he asked it again, “James, why did he have such a big influence on you?” Mind you this is taking place in front of sixty other students, so I am getting a little uncomfortable and just wishing he would move on. Still I struggled to come up with an answer, so he pressed on, raising his voice, “Why?! What made Coach Stanton so special?” I could feel the eyes of the entire class on me and feel my anxiety growing. He continued, “James, what was it?” Finally, without thinking about it, I just blurted out, “Because I knew how much he loved us and we loved him.” The professor grinned and walked away satisfied.
I think my answer surprised the rest of the class and even myself a little bit. If I had been given time to think about my answer I probably wouldn’t have given such a vulnerable one, but this professor was going all Good Will Hunting on me. So, I had no time to really dilute my answer. The result was the 100% uncensored truth. Coach Stanton was able to impact my life and many others, because we knew how much he cared about us. You can’t help, but love a coach like that and that love spread throughout our entire team. Whether I missed a tackle or made the game-winning sack, I knew he loved me. Whether our team went 2-7 or won the state championship, we knew he loved us. Whether the year was 2008 or 2015, we knew he loved us.
When you are a part of a team united by a common goal and their love for each other, you are a part of something truly special and capable of achieving great things. That is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Records and championship rings are great, but when I look back on my playing days, it’s not the touchdown plays that I remember most. What I remember are the relationships with my teammates and the times we shared together. Singing “Sweet Caroline” on the bus rides home after a win, Saturday mornings watching last night’s game film, being a part of something bigger than yourself, that’s what I remember most. Coach Stanton had a great talent for transforming a group of selfish boys into a team of exceptional, young men.
Coach Stanton taught me a lot of lessons growing up and I would not be where I am today without him. But, the biggest lesson he taught me was to live a life based out of love, love for your family, love for your friends and love for your community. My senior year we were able to achieve something great and win a state championship. We were one of the best teams to go through CCHDS after going 2-7 the year before. When people ask me what was special about our team and how we were able to pull off such a huge turnaround, I always say that we had a very talented team, but what set us apart was the love we had for each other and the love we had for our head coach. The power in that experience had a profound impact on me and has shaped my life going forward ever since.
Coach Stanton helped make me into the man I am today and I am so grateful to have had the privilege to know him like I did. Even though he is gone, the lessons Coach taught me will continue to guide me for the rest of my life, and that is why he will forever be my coach.
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