The power of a coach's influence is immeasurable.
Growing up in Estherville in the late 90s, there was one coach that stood out to me among the rest.
Jerry Schultz, with his stocky frame, piercing blue eyes, booming voice and mustache is the dictionary definition of a football coach. As a young boy perched in the stands of Hoyt Luithly Field watching the Mighty Midgets of Estherville Lincoln Central, I remember watching Coach Schultz walk up and down the sidelines with a seemingly permanent scowl on his face and thinking just how intimidating a presence he was.
When I got the opportunity to play for him, I wasn't disappointed.
Coach Schultz was old school. He wasn't a 'rah-rah' guy. He was quick with criticism and slow with a compliment. He didn't allow for any shenanigans. Eye black, fancy arm bands and other 'look at me' decorations were forbidden. Gloves were questionable. He once made me change my socks three times before a game because the first two pairs didn't match the rest of the linemen. No kidding.
He simply wanted you to do your job, do it well and be humble as you did it.
This left a lot of former players with mixed feelings on their experience under him. I was no different.
At times, I hated him. Other times, I appreciated him. Very rarely did I like him, and never did we see eye-to-eye. But, for some reason, he always gave me a chance.
One of my favorite Coach Schultz stories happened during my sophomore year.
It was maybe the third week of football season, and I had been playing strictly on the junior varsity team at that point when Coach Schultz called me into his office.
"Heinrichs," he asked. "How would you like to travel with the varsity team to Algona this Friday?"
This, normally, is a pretty big honor for a lowly junior varsity player and was a rarity in those years for an underclassman. However, I had just started dating my girlfriend at the time, one of my good friends just purchased a new car, and we'd already made plans to road trip down to the game. Forced to make a decision between hanging out with a bunch of sweaty dudes or my new girlfriend in the backseat of a Chevy Astro, I wasted little time giving my reply.
"No thanks, Coach," I said.
In that instant, I saw this look come over Coach Schultz's face that I'm not sure he's made before or since. It was a look of equal parts confusion, anger and contempt. The audacity for some punk to turn down an invitation to travel with the varsity football team. Looking back, it wasn't my best decision.
"Get out of here," was all he could offer, as I turned and left his office.
Of course that Friday my friends and I made the trip to Algona to watch the game. At half time, as the team and coaches made their way past the stands, my buddies made sure to point me out in the crowd. "Hey, Coach Schultz! Heinrichs is right here," they screamed, pointing in my direction. It wasn't until that moment, as I ducked behind my friends and shamefully avoided eye contact, that I realized the grave mistake that I'd made.
In P.E. class the following Monday, Coach Schultz made sure to call me out during flag football after I trash talked the other team.
"You think you're something special, don't you?" he asked. "I thought you had some potential to be a good football player. Apparently I was wrong. You're selfish and you've got a horrible attitude. I tell you what, you will NEVER play football for me. I guarantee you that."
Needless to say, that knocked me down a peg or two.
For the rest of the week, I went through football practice with my eyes and ears open and my mouth shut and I had a pretty decent showing in my junior varsity game. During varsity practice, I played running back on the scout team offense and the upperclassmen made a point to hit me just a little bit harder than normal.
Battered, bruised and more than a little embarrassed, I was preparing to leave practice Thursday when Coach Schultz summoned me to his office once again.
"Heinrichs," he said. "You're traveling with the varsity tomorrow."
Anyone else probably would have been excited to hear that news, but I just nodded in agreement, knowing full well it was another form of punishment. They needed someone to lug their bags and I was the poor schmuck that got the job.
The next afternoon, I carried the varsity team's bags and loaded them on the bus. I sat right next to the coaches the entire trip to Forest City and, once again, kept my mouth shut. When we arrived at our destination, I unloaded the bags, filled water bottles, did all of the chores an underclassman was supposed to do, and settled in for the pre-game meeting.
As we broke for warm ups, I was generally hating life when assistant coach Tim Milner took me aside.
"You know you're playing tonight, right?" he asked.
I was baffled.
How could I go from NEVER playing varsity football to playing in my first varsity game just one week later?
"Well you are," Coach Milner said. "So you'd better get your mind right."
In just our second defensive series of the game, I was sent in to replace a junior defensive end that was struggling badly. A handful of plays later, I shot a gap and smoked the quarterback, causing a fumble that we recovered. As I came off the field after that play to the deafening cheers of the crowd, I realized exactly what had happened in the last week.
I needed to be humbled, and Coach Schultz was the man for the job.
He was tough, but he was fair. In his eyes I'd paid my dues and for that I deserved another shot.
That's not to say I learned my lesson completely. In the following years, I continued to test his patience. But each time he doled out his form of punishment, and welcomed me right back into the fold after my penance was served.
Coach Shultz retired from coaching in 2007 as the winningest coach in school history. In 2013, he was inducted into the Iowa Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame following a 27-year coaching career that included a state championship and twice coached in the Iowa Shrine Bowl.
More importantly, over those 27 years, Coach Shultz made an impact on the lives of young men, mine included.
He gave me more chances than I ever deserved, and for that I will always be grateful.