By Mike Max

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Academy of Holy Angels ended their football season Friday night by winning in the state title game against Cloquet, 14-0.

One of their supporters is almost an extension of the coaching staff, but Father Mike concentrates on more than X’s and O’s.

In a season filled with highlights, Holy Angels has produced some magical moments. In the middle of it is Father Mike, the school’s priest.

“One of our greatest gifts from the Archdiocese is allowing us to have Father Mike here,” Holy Angels president Thomas Shipley said. “It’s pretty incredible. He’s one of greatest gifts, greatest assets. The kids love him. He cares not only about the kids on the field, but their spiritual life, and them as people.”

father mike holy angels At Academy Of Holy Angels, Father Mike Offers Guidance To Athletes

Father Mike (credit: CBS)

These hallways mean something to Father Mike — it’s his school, and it’s where he lives, so they can ask the tough questions.

“It might be something that’s going on in school, it might be something that’s going on in the news, but it does lend itself to being on the sidelines and being present to them, an approachability,” Father Mike said. “Over time, I can say being here has opened all kinds of doors, to having conversations on any number of topics.”

That’s sometimes all they need — to know there’s someone watching.

“It’s great — celebrating pregame mass every week,” Holy Angels offensive lineman Jack Aleman said. “It’s always something special that I enjoy, just having the spiritual aspect before the game.”

So he makes his presence known because he understands a high school journey is one filled with confidence and self-doubt, and questions that don’t have easy answers.

“He’s established relationships with kids, so it’s not just a stranger coming around and doing mass,” Holy Angels football coach Jim Gunderson said. “I think his presence around on the sideline shows the kids that he genuinely cares about Holy Angels and the students that are in Holy Angels.”

father mike At Academy Of Holy Angels, Father Mike Offers Guidance To Athletes

(credit: CBS)

And he’s willing to go the extra mile — sometimes literally. He once drove the team bus when there was a shortage of bus drivers.

“There were a few moments where we were a little surprised, but it was good,” Holy Angels wide receiver Peter Laird said.

What makes the experience special is having Father Mike with you.

“One of the big things is he’s just there for the guys,” Holy Angels athletic director Michael Kautzman said. “I kind of like him. He’s not the televangelist jumping around in front of people, but he’s walking with people every day, and that’s kind of the thing I see with the kids.”

Somewhere in it all, you sense Father Mike is fulfilled.

“I think what I try to offer the team is just some support, by presence and by cheering them on a little bit,” Father Mike said. “Since Jim Gunderson started, we do a pregame mass.”

But there’s one thing that many have wondered about God and sports — what’s fair to pray about, when you go into a game?

“I think what’s fair to pray about is asking God for the wisdom, the guidance, to be able to have the heart to do the best that you can,” Father Mike said.

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