A coaching legacy: Risbrudts come together as son takes over first head coaching jobPublished 11:02am Friday, August 30, 2013
As his players took a break from the heat Wednesday afternoon, first year Ashby head football coach Jeff Risbrudt put his shoulder to a single blocking sled, moving it off the field so his team could practice punts.
“Look at that form!” someone yelled out from the group of players. “Push! Push! Push!”
On his walk back, grinning, Risbrudt held his arms up in the air and flexed. The laughter and applause from his players grew louder.
His face shows how much he loves the game. Navigating the field with his head down, searching for plays, his stride is smooth and never nervous. Nothing in the world seems more natural.
It’s easy to see he was raised in the game.
“Coaching is just a huge passion of mine,” Risbrudt said back in the classroom where he will teach math at Ashby High School. “I will spend time on it whether I’m getting paid or not. I’m going to do it.”
Risbrudt is a familiar name in Ashby and the surrounding area. In 1972, his father, Richard, graduated from the high school and, a few years later, had his first job at Hillcrest Lutheran Academy in Fergus Falls.
He stayed with the program until 2005, when he moved across town to the larger public program at the Fergus Falls High School. After retiring last fall, this will be his first year away from the game. He has, however, found a comfortable spot in the stands watching on as his son prepares for his first season.
Since their earliest years, football has been a constant in the Risbrudt family. For Jeff especially, coaching has always been an interest.
“It’s something that you grow up with it, so when you grow up with it becomes part of your culture and then part of your life,” Richard said of his son’s lifelong fascination with running a team. “It’s just natural to gravitate that direction.”
Having spent so many years watching his father’s success, Jeff has carried over a number of different aspects from Richard’s system, from the play book to weekly community service.
“A lot of things that I do in our program is really mirror image from my dad’s. Not only just because it was my dad, but just because of how successful it was,” Jeff said.
A lot of that success came from the personal relationship Richard developed with his players. As Jeff ran practice on Thursday preparing for the opener against Wheaton/Herman Norcross, a team Ashby hasn’t beaten in years, Richard pointed to his son’s ability to do the same.
“I think the most important thing is developing a mentor type relationship with your players,” Richard said. “Once you develop that trust relationship with the players you can have influence in their lives on a positive basis.”
Jeff witnessed much of what he’s learned from his father first hand as a player, serving as a quarterback for the Comets through high school. That time was cut short, however, when Richard took the position at Fergus after Jeff’s sophomore year. While some players transferred across town, Jeff stayed with the close friends he had made at Hillcrest.
“It was a tough two years,” Richard said. “It was difficult for our family and just a tough time.”
“When that happened that really did crush me,” Jeff said. “My goal was to always play for my dad and that was always my dream. When my dream was finally here and it’s not anymore, it was a tough two years.”
But after making it through the difficult time and the tough circumstance, football won out for the family. With Richard at several of Jeff’s practices this year, the two share the game at a level they haven’t before.
“It definitely brings us closer together. It’s that one thing that sort of bonds us,” Jeff said. “It’s something that we can share and help each other out with, him helping me out more than me helping him now. Looking back, knowing I didn’t play for him, just having him alongside of me coaching I think is the same satisfaction I would have gotten playing for him.”
“He likes it, you know, that I’m here watching him coach, but also that I’m limited in what I do,” Richard said with a laugh.
Watching his son call in signals as the Arrows ran through their final preparations, Richard spoke of the confidence he has in his son’s abilities. While his time under the headset is over, the joy coaching has brought lives on.
It’s probable that the success he knew as a coach will live on as well.
“I just hope he keeps enjoying what he’s doing and doesn’t get caught up in the wins and losses,” Richard said. “They’ll come.”