By Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

SOMERSET, Wis. (WCCO) — An entire western Wisconsin town is reeling after the sudden loss of one of its most popular residents. Somerset head football coach Bruce Larson died suddenly on Sunday.

The three time state champion was nationally renowned for his work on the field, but he’s also being remembered for so much more.

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(credit: Star-Observer)

The field is frozen at Somerset High School. Time is frozen too; Coach Larson’s classroom is quiet, his desk sits empty.

“I’ve shed a lot of tears here in the last couple of days thinking about him and it’s a big void, that’s a big chair to fill,” said Dr. Mark Bezek, the district administrator of Somerset Schools.

Coach Larson’s boss is trying to keep it together – but admits the entire town  is falling apart with sadness.

“I’ve been doing this 42 years and I’ve never seen someone so loved and respected by students, by fellow staff and the community in general,” said Bezek.

He led his teams to three state championships, won games for decades, coached players to the pros – that’s what he was known for – but that’s only part of what he’ll be remembered for.

(credit: Star-Observer)

Lake Dejongh is a sophomore at Somerset High School. He says he’s never been through anything like this and feels empty inside.

“He was a great man, a leader, a very big influence in all of our lives and he will always stick with us,” Dejongh said.

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Julius Cook is a sophomore football player who said, “He made me feel like I always belonged and I was cared about.”

(credit: Star-Observer)

“No matter what, he loved you. You didn’t even have to play sports, choir band whatever, he would always sit down and talk with you – or joke around, he always had some joke,” said Dejongh.

Cook said what he will miss most is Coach’s (Dad) jokes.

Jokes they say they’ll savor – amidst the sadness.

“He taught a lot of us a lot things…and it hurts,” Lake said.

Dejongh says he will take with him this advice: “Always try to find the bright side of things, no better how bad it seems.”

Advice from a coach who so deeply understood the game of life.

Friday night, high schools around the area and the country will light up their stadiums at 7 p.m. in honor of Coach Larson. Coach Larson’s son is also a coach. He’s asking any school that wants to join in to light up their stadiums too.

There will be a visitation for Coach Larson Friday at Somerset High School from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., and then a short ceremony as they turn on the stadium lights in his honor one last time.

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His funeral is Saturday at 11 a.m. at Christ Lutheran Church .

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield