MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Mike Tate is a football coach, and he loves it. But his life has taught him what he wants to teach others.

He works with youth prospects in north Minneapolis. He wants the kids to understand that life can be tough, and decisions important.

His own son taught him that lesson, and is paying the price.

It’s practice time at North Commons Park. A 10-year-old team is being coached by Tate. It’s a rite of passage on the North Side.

“I’ve been here for four decades, about 40 years. So I started about 1973, 74,” Tate said.

On this day, he brings his team to a Minnesota Vikings practice. It is part of the experience; to be a part of it, to encourage. And for Tate, it’s about building relationships through football for much more.

“It’s a valuable thing. Not only for me, but for the family and the kid because we get to know each other from a day-to-day basis,” he said.

Because Tate believes in this day and age, parents need to understand the sport’s value.

“Parents don’t know that football is developing a child’s mind on how to work hard. And if they can work hard on the football field, they can do great things in the classroom,” Tate said.

He’s even coached his own two boys many years ago, and he knows much because of it. His son, Terry Pettis, was quite an athlete, and not just in football. He helped lead Henry High School to three state titles.

“He probably was, I don’t know, top five in his senior year. Qualified for Mr. Basketball,” Tate said.

Terry Pettis and Mike Tate (credit: CBS)

He got a full ride scholarship to Fresno State, and it didn’t take long.

“Freshman year was, I think he finished second in the voting for Freshman of the Year,” Tate said.

Then something went wrong in his sophomore year. He started using drugs, and one night in the spring, a deal went bad. Pettis shot and killed a girl and was wanted for murder. He fled to Minnesota, where his father, Mike Tate, turned him in to police.

“Can you imagine a father having to pick his son up and take him, willfully, into a Minneapolis jail instead of saying, ‘Hey, stay on the run,’” Tate said.

Pettis is 16 years into a life sentence without parole in California. And Tate is still aware there is another family who lost a child forever.

“That family, I pray every day for their forgiveness of what happened on that date, April 27, I remember it,” Tate said. “I pray for their strength, because they lost a loved one, too.”

That brings us back to North Commons Park, because here is where Tate can be effective knowing what he knows.

“We have a motto that if you have a great attitude, you have a respect for the game, you work hard, we’ll create some success for you,” Tate said.

The goal is to get them to the North High School Polar varsity team.

“North probably has 15 of our youth right now. And I don’t know, some of them started at eight grade over there,” Tate said.

Because he knows that sports can help kids, and he knows that the battle against the streets is real. And if football can be a tool, then bring it.

“We fight like everybody else for kids to come out and play. But normal, we probably got about 60 kids out,” he said.

Tate flies to California once a month to visit his son in prison, believing at least they are both different from the tragedy.

“It has made me a stronger man through spirit, and I’m pretty sure it’s made him a stronger man, too,” Tate said.

And it makes him aware of why he’s here: To keep building self-esteem in kids through a sport that can be so much more.

“The love that I have for 40 years of doing this is the love that I keep for 40 more if I live,” he said. “Because this is me. This is a soul of me. It’s football.”

Mike Max