MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It is practice time for the Wayzata football team, and head coach Gordy Engel is in charge of special teams.
Engel starred at Gustavus College, when a coach named Jocko Nelson saw something in him that changed him.
“I had the blessing of playing at Gustavus and playing for Jocko Nelson, who was very instrumental in my life,” Engel said. “Next to my dad and the Lord Jesus Christ, he was probably the number-one guy as far as confidence.”
He needs to be on the field after what happened to him in August. He lost his daughter — Kathryne Pals — his son in law and three grandchildren when a semi driver hit them in a construction zone. They had been living with Engel and his wife before leaving on a missionary trip.
“They were going to Japan in October, say their goodbyes, they sold everything, they were living at our house. We had the privilege of them living there for three months,” Engel said.
The first thing he did was forgive the driver, who was arrested on reckless driving charges.
“Right from the start, our message was that we wanted him to receive our forgiveness,” he said.
Then he and his wife set out to make sure people understood the good that could come out of such a tragedy.
“We’re talking about a son, wife and three kids, you can very easily just sit at home and cry your eyes out and that kind of stuff,” said Brian Dozier of the Minnesota Twins. “But what they want to do is make an impact on other people’s lives.”
And players in the Wayzata football program are taking note.
“He gave us this speech the day he came back on how he’s going to go through this, and how he wants all of us to look at him as an example of how we push through times that are tough and come out on top. He’s a great guy,” said Wayzata kicker Myles Johnson.
Because Engel believes that this is not just his opportunity to speak about his faith – it is his obligation.
“It’s still very painful, but our message is victory. We believe that our kids are in heaven, and they believe that, and without that it would be really hard,” Engel said.
And he wants his players to know he walks the walk.
“He just shows perseverance. He’s gone through one of the hardest things you could think of to go through in a lifetime, and no one deserves to go through that. It just shows how you always have family supporting you,” said Wayzata football player Justin Wold.
Because while he has taught, he has learned that his place in life is independent of the circumstances that he cannot explain. And the real coaching he is doing now is about the meaning of life.
“Live life with no regrets,” Engel said. “Never be in that spot when you can look back say, ‘Wish I had done that.’ Do it now.”