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BALL FIVE: Coach taught me size does not a football player make

My introduction to Coach John Salzsiedler came in seventh grade during junior high football practice. I did not think at the time that this was his introduction to me.
The junior high team was running a lap, we had to practice on the same field, and I strayed a little too close to the varsity. As I ran by, Coach reached out, grabbed my facemask and sent me spinning like a Frisbee. He screamed something at me about keeping away from the varsity, but the words escaped me. I was busy making a helicopter landing on the practice field and then quickly retreating to get back with my pack of future Tigers.
I never realized it until much later that maybe, just maybe, Coach had noticed who he had sent flying that day. It is important to remember that I was running faster than anyone else on the junior high team during that lap.
When I signed up for the Mobridge Tiger football team my freshman year in 1973, I weighed in at 92 pounds. If I were in a litter of puppies, I was the runt. There were a couple guys as small as me, but not smaller.
I could have been lost in the shuffle, but Coach always knew I was there. When it was my turn to hold the push-back tackling dummy for downfield blocking practice, well, it became time to learn a lesson. Senior lineman Joel Travis came barreling at me from about 20 feet away. I held on for impact. Travis sent me high enough into the air that I was able to spin around and land on top of the dummy. And Coach came screaming. I learned quickly that I was of no use if I wasn’t going to be tough enough to take the blow and land on my back. At the time, I thought Coach was crazy. Through time and experience, I learned that it was about having the balance to take on the blow, not take the blow. By the way, thank you Pete Stadem for being the next guy in line and giving me a love tap instead of making me knock the wind out of myself on the landing.
After my turn was over, I was pretty miffed, especially when I saw other freshmen doing a worse job than I did and not getting yelled at. That one didn’t take too much time to figure out. Coach yelled at me, because he cared about me. He saw my love for the game and was helping me to prepare for four years of being an itty-bitty football player.
Little guy that I was, I even ended up starting at linebacker on the junior varsity team that year. Of course I had to wait until the original starter got caught smoking. But I still started. While it was coaches Fran Herman and Pee Wee Kludt who told me on the bus en route to a game in Eureka, Coach was behind the decision.
Remember a few paragraphs ago when I said it was important to remember that I was leading the pack during that fateful junior high lap? Well, I kept leading those laps. I ran as fast as I could for four years. I did every little thing I could to help the Tigers become a better football team. I took on up-downs with fervor. I got blasted in the face and pummeled to ground. I had my wind sent from my lungs to the ozone layer. And every time, I got up and I ran. There were times by sophomore and junior years that I was the running back for the opposition during defensive practice. Coach would tell the defense what play was being run and how it would be blocked. Then I would get the ball and get creamed, and then I would get the ball and get creamed again. And then we would run a lap and I would run as fast as I could.
My teammates were probably sick of this, but it happened countless times. That portion of practice and the following lap would be over and Coach would give his pep talk before the next session. Remember this, teammates? “Come on! You can’t be tired yet. Look at Davis. He’s the smallest guy on the team and he’s outworking all of you!”
Turns out, I had a successful football career. I grew some. I was over a 100 pounds my sophomore year and 115 as a junior before hitting a growth spurt and checking in at 136 my senior year. All the while, I was a linebacker. I wasn’t a safety or a cornerback. I think part of it was because I was too stupid to know how small I was, but part of it was that Coach wanted me at linebacker; a place where he could hide me between bigger defensive backs and the much bigger linemen.
After the first game my sophomore year (that’s another story for another time), I played in every game the rest of my career. I was the little guy, but I was also the guy who knew that Coach was going to make sure had playing time every Friday night. He knew from early on that I loved the game. He knew that if he pushed me, I would not give up and I would do whatever he asked to help the team. He also knew that I wasn’t going to be very good on Friday so he found ways to allow me to help the team on Monday through Thursday.
While I was growing physically from 13 to 17, Coach was helping me grow mentally.
Thank you, Coach. Rest in peace.