Lake Park coach Andy Livingston during his last game with the team.
SUZANNE CARAKER | Staff Photographer
Even before retiring from Lake Park last spring as a German language teacher, former Lancers varsity football coach Andy Livingston knew he was ready for some more football.
His assignment, with the Marburg Mercenaries of the German Football League, sounds like not just a country but a world away.
Livingston had arranged in advance to volunteer as defensive line coach for old pal Joe Roman, an award-winning defensive guru who helped Bob MacDougall earn national titles at College of DuPage and Joliet Junior College. Roman's also a 12-year veteran of German football and in his second year leading Marburg.
Livingston went abroad as soon as his retirement party ended in May. Centrally located in the country, Marburg is a touristy university town filled with ancient architecture including a castle on a hill overlooking the town and football stadium.
"A mountain to us Midwesterners," Livingston wrote in an email from Germany.
These clubs are similar to an American semipro team, Livingston said, regarding stipends to those players and coaches who are paid. The six American players allowed per team (only two "Amis" on the field on any play) definitely get paid, but players still must offer member fees to fund travel, stadium rental and other costs. The quality of play ranks between community college and Division II.
It takes a village to run this operation. Livingston and Roman share an apartment in Niederweimar, 5 kilometers to the south; the offensive coordinator stays with his wife in the basement of the Mercenaries president's mother's house.
In addition to using an "awesome" public transportation system, the coaches share one car; the four American players on the roster, staying in university housing, share another. Livingston also rides a bike to get out and about.
The native German players, between the ages of 19 and 37 on Marburg plus a 50-year-old kicker, are primarily family men who commute from their full-time lives as husbands, fathers and workers. Since their lives don't revolve around the sport, practices are held only on Tuesday and Thursday nights to prepare for Sunday's games. The urgency doesn't seem to be what Livingston demanded at Lake Park.
"We have had some players not practice due to a cold," Livingston said. "Guy can bench your house, shows up in civis at the field and says he's a no-go because of the sniffles."
Still, after its first 11 games in a season that ends Oct. 9 in the German Bowl, Marburg was 10-1. Traveling hours to away games sounds like an adventure, with five-hour rides to Munich and a nine-hour hike to Kiel during which, it was learned en route, rain had canceled the game.
"We had no choice but to stay over in the youth hostel already booked," said Livingston, who on home dates shares with the entire team the duty of setting up and taking down everything from the benches to the beer tent to the goal posts.
In addition to reconnecting with Roman, a main lure for Livingston was the opportunity to continue to "speak the Deutsch." Even that poses laughable problems. German players, used to taking instruction in English from American coaches, wage a war of words in trying to prove their English is better than Livingston's German. After constructing hybrids of both languages such as "blocken" and "tackeln" a compromise was reached English spoken on the field, German off it.
Save a two-week visit, since Memorial Day weekend Livingston has been separated from his wife, Glenbard East teacher Leland. The two met in Germany more than three decades ago, and the country is more than a sentimental destination; youngest daughter Mallory studied German and philosophy at the University of Munich last school year and came to watch the Mercenaries in Stuttgart.
The distance between Livingston and his wife provides the greatest drawback to an otherwise fun experience. To at least some extent, though, the former Lancer knew what he was getting into.
"Hard not to like coaching football, talking the Deutsch and enjoying the best beer in the world," he said.
Reading, writing and receiving
Wheaton Warrenville South's receivers do more than block and catch passes. They read about others who block and catch passes.
Composing an assignment titled "Understanding Greatness: The Wide Receiver Position," Tigers assistant coaches Joe Kish and Matt Alley had their charges team up in pairs and prepare reports both on paper and in an electronic format comparing and contrasting NFL receivers both past and present.
For example, a Tiger could choose to provide a history and attributes of former New York Jet Don Maynard in comparison with, say, Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward.
The goals included teamwork, gaining a sense of history about their position and examining how they could perhaps translate the techniques of the stars to their own game.
Maybe in a couple years former WW South tight end Tony Moeaki of the Kansas City Chiefs makes the list.
Older and wiser
When Neuqua Valley football coach Bryan Wells released his varsity roster, the name of No. 62 rang a bell offensive guard Nathan Wells.
Seems like only yesterday the sophomore was scrambling around his father's knees when Susan Wells brought their kids, Nathan and Kayla, onto the field for the weekly postgame hug. Now 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, Nathan is as solidly built as his father was playing guard at Olivet Nazarene. Kayla's a sophomore at Black Hawk College.
Bryan Wells often doesn't even scrutinize his son's practice reps, leaving that up to Wildcats offensive line coach Clayton Figi.
"I went home last night and had to ask him how practice went," the head coach said last week.
For many coaches, this is why they get into it at the start.
"It's just something that I've looked forward to for a long time, and I know that he has. He's been on the sidelines here from day one, and I know he really looked forward to doing this," Bryan Wells said.
"He had a comment to a kid the other day (who asked), 'Does your dad want you to be the best football player?'
"And he said, 'No, my dad wants me to be the best man I can be.' And that's what we're all about here."