ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — South St. Paul is undefeated again in high school football. There are a number of reasons why.
The Packers have brought back an old coach, have an interesting volunteer manager and a head coach that makes it all work.
Down in the bowl, on a day made for football, they practice football.
In the middle of it is their unofficial team manager, David Benning.
“It’s organic,” head coach Chad Sexauer said. “It started out David just riding his bike in and around town and just all of the sudden we started waving at him to come down the hill.”
Twelve years later, he’s here every day — inspiring.
“We look forward to, every day, walking through the tunnel and knowing we’re going to see a smile, knowing we’re going to get some words of inspiration,” Sexauer said.
Yes, he inspires, but part of the beauty of this story is what he gets back.
“I love my Packers,” Benning said. “They love me.”
The Packers have another person from their past helping as an assistant coach. Paul Miller played here in high school.
He went on to serve as head coach at six programs — three high school, three college — including South St. Paul, then returned as a volunteer assistant after retirement to Packer Land.
“It’s just special. I have memories of everything,” Miller said. “We had parents night, I remember my dad standing on the field over there.”
He’s in his element — a football locker room on game night and dissecting an opposing defense from the press box.
“I’m very lucky to get to spend a lot of quality hours, whether it be driving to clinics and talking or whether it just be things on the weekend where I get an idea or he gets an idea and we get to exchange it,” Sexauer said.
For Miller it is a gift to have lived a football life because of the kids he influences.
“It’s fortunate that I ended up somehow doing this,” he said. “I suppose in college, it was the Vietnam time and if it wasn’t for football I’m not sure how my life would’ve truly turned out.”
He’s seen it all, including a state title at Apple Valley 30 years ago, which made it painful recently to go back for a funeral of one his former players.
“The mother walks up and you haven’t seen the mother for 20 years and she throws her arms around you,” Miller said. “Sometimes I get emotional thinking about that stuff because it’s meaningful. You hope you did it right for kids’ sake.”