WASHINGTON (WCCO) — A Minnesota man is taking over what’s been called the most important unelected position in government.

This afternoon, President Obama appointed Denis McDonough to be his new Chief of Staff.

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McDonough grew up in Stillwater, Minn., and graduated from St. John’s University where he played football. McDonough has 11 brothers and sisters and still has close ties to this area.

“He’s the consummate public servant,” Obama said. “He plays it straight and that’s the kind of teamwork I want in the White House.”

From college friends to professors to coaches, few people were surprised he made it so far, adding that McDonough is very smart, but never flaunted it.

Growing up ninth out of 11 children, McDonough was always considered a team player, according to his brother the Rev. Kevin McDonough.

“What always interested us is … ‘Where’s things moving in the community, how can we be a part of it?'” Kevin McDonough said.

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Denis was a history and Spanish major at St. Johns, where he played strong safety and graduated summa cum laude.

Current SJU professors say he gives back to his school every year, spending precious time with Washington D.C. summer program students from St. John’s and St. Ben’s.

Denis worked on Capitol Hill, then on Obama’s campaign, even showing up in the famous photo taken during the Osama Bin Laden raid.

Longtime coach George Thole said what Denis didn’t have in speed, the 1988 Stillwater High graduate made up for in smarts.

“The one quality that you absolutely need for a job like this, or any other job in Washington to be good at it is you have to be tough,” Thole said. “And I knew he was tough.’

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For the McDonough family, this is all extraordinary and overwhelming, but not at all surprising that their little brother has made it so far.

Heather Brown