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A Friday night tradition in Hutch

Rostbergs have led football team since 1970

The last time someone not named Rostberg was coaching high school football at Hutchinson, Neil Armstrong was taking a step on the moon.

Andy Rostberg and his dad, Grady Rostberg, prior to the Hutchinson Tigers’ 48-13 victory over Sauk Rapids-Rice on Friday, Oct. 19. Grady started coaching the Tigers in 1970 and has 277 wins. Andy has 178 wins and counting since taking over in 1999. Both have state titles. Grady now serves as Andy’s assistant coach. Photo by Scott Thoma

That was in 1969, the year before legendary coach Grady Rostberg took over the helm and guided the Tigers to 277 wins and three state titles in 29 seasons.

Grady’s first two state titles came in the 1983 and 1984 seasons with his son, Andy, the Tigers’ starting quarterback.

Like signing a name after painting a masterpiece, Grady Rostberg put the finishing touches on his coaching career in 1998 when Hutchinson won the Class AAAA state championship with a 21-20 victory over Owatonna.

Andy was the team’s offensive coordinator that year and the heir apparent to his father’s former position. And when Grady announced his retirement following that championship season, Andy applied for the job.

“After I applied, my dad wrote me a long hand-written letter, telling me he felt I was ready to take over and that he was so proud of me,” Andy said. “It brought tears to my eyes. I still have that letter in my safe at home … and I will keep it forever.”

As expected, Andy was hired as the Tigers’ head coach for the 1999 season and has been there ever since. In 19 seasons, including an 8-0 regular-season mark this season, he has amassed 178 wins. He now trails his father by 99 wins.

The Tigers have been ranked in the top three in Class AAAA most of the season.

“I’d have to average 10 wins a year for 10 years to catch him,” laughed Andy. “That’s a lot of wins to go.”

The Tigers’ football program didn’t miss a beat when Andy took over. He guided Hutchinson to state titles in 2013 and 2014, with his dad now an assistant coach.

“My dad never really stopped coaching,” Andy said. “He’s been helping (as a volunteer assistant) since I took over.”

Grady now sits high atop the field in the press box on game days and communicates with his son down on the sidelines.

“I’m no dummy. It’s warmer up there, and it’s out of the wind,” Grady joked. “And I have a good seat that I don’t have to pay for.”

The Rostbergs are more than coaching colleagues. And they are more than father and son.

“He’s my best friend,” Andy said with little hesitation when asked about their relationship. “We do everything together. We hunt and fish together, and we talk to each other a lot. We get along great.”

When Andy married his wife, Heidi, it was his father who served as best man.

Evolving from six-man football

Graydon “Grady” Rostberg was born in Grand Forks, N.D. His father was the county sheriff there. The family later moved to the small town of Gilby, N.D., (population around 300), where Grady played six-man football.

“We had about 12 or 14 players on the team,” said Grady. “Everybody was eligible, and everybody played.”

Grady went on to star as a 160-pound running back and defensive back for Mayville State in North Dakota. As a captain his senior year, he led the conference in rushing and scoring. He was also the captain of the Mayville State basketball team, as well as a member of the baseball team there.

He landed his first job right out of college as the head baseball coach in Hatton, N.D.

“I then got married to my wife (Sharon) and the principal that was at Hatton got a job in Brownton,” Grady told. “He called me and said he had an opening for a head football coach and a home economics teacher. Knowing my wife and I would both have jobs, we accepted the offer.”

Grady and his wife taught and coached in Brownton from 1963-69 before they moved to Hutchinson, where he taught high school math from 1969 to 1996. He also became the assistant football coach in 1969, and when the head football coach, Bill Snyder, took over as principal, Grady moved up the ladder to become the head coach in 1970. He was also head girls’ basketball and head baseball coach for five years each at Hutchinson.

“I miss Friday nights down on the field coaching,” said Grady. “But there are some things I don’t miss, too, like when a parent is unhappy that their kid isn’t playing enough and things like that.”

Grady’s philosophy as a football coach was simple and easy to understand.

“Coach Rostberg was a master motivator,” said Cory Sauter, a former Hutchinson quarterback who was a standout quarterback for the Minnesota Gophers and spent six years in the NFL after being signed as an undrafted free agent by the Arizona Cardinals in 1998.

“He always preached three things: be early, be responsible, and be respectful. And if you didn’t follow those three concepts, he would let you know.”

Sauter was one of three former Hutchinson players coached by Grady that were eventually drafted or signed as free agents by NFL teams.

Andy Rostberg (left) walks off the field with his father and coach, Grady, at halftime of a game in 1984. Contributed photo

Stan Sytsma, an All-Big 10 linebacker with the Minnesota Gophers, was drafted in the seventh round by the New Orleans Saints and spent two years in the NFL. Chul Schwanke, a running back, was drafted in the 10th round of the 1986 draft by the Los Angeles Rams.

“Coach had the ability to get the most out of each player on the team and helped everyone understand their role,” said Sauter, now the head football coach at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. “He certainly saw some things in me that I did not see myself. In fact, I was almost ready to hang up football and concentrate on other sports until he provided a spark of inspiration to stick it out. I am forever grateful that I was able to play for one of the best football coaches of all time. And I am even more grateful that I was around one of the best human beings over my high school career and beyond.”

Grady also didn’t allow his players to swear. If they used a curse word at practice or in a game, they would have to run after practice.

“One game, I got a little upset, and I cursed at an official,” Grady recalled. “So at practice the next day, I told my team about it and that I was going to run as my punishment. And I told them that if any of them had used a curse word during that game, they should run with me. The whole team joined me running.”

Grady attributes a lot of the season he had as a head coach to making sure his coaches at the younger levels let all the kids play and not to worry so much about winning.

“I wanted all the kids to get a chance to play and to learn the fundamentals at an early age,” he explained. “I remember our ninth and tenth-grade teams would lose to some teams, but when they got to the varsity, they would beat those same teams. You can’t win without good players, but you can lose with good players if they aren’t fundamentally ready.”

Grady and his wife had three children: Andy, Allison and Heidi. All three children were athletically gifted and have been inducted into the Hutchinson Sports Hall of Fame.

Grady still loves to hunt and fish and is still an outstanding golfer who shoots his age on most outings on the course.

Growing up with football

Andy Rostberg, 52, remembers being on the sidelines as a young boy for his father’s practices and games.

“I was at every practice and game from the time I was around 4 years old until I graduated,” Andy said. “I remember thinking I wanted to be like (the players) and to play for the Tigers. And I thought it was so cool having a father that was leading them all.”

Andy was a three-sport star in high school, playing football, basketball and baseball.

After winning consecutive state titles, a standout quarterback, Andy went on to college at North Dakota State University, serving as a Bison backup quarterback and also as a starting shortstop for three years on the baseball team.

When he returned to his hometown, he taught geography for 11 years before changing professions and has been an insurance agent in Hutchinson for several years now.

Andy coached girls’ basketball at Hutchinson for 18 years, the first four years as an assistant, before becoming head coach in 1994. Among those he coached in high school was former Minnesota Gopher and Minnesota Lynx standout Lindsay Whalen, who was also a two-time Olympic gold medalist.

As the head football coach, he also coached three players that were drafted or signed by NFL teams. Mitch Erickson was an offensive guard, who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Denver Broncos in 2008. He spent three years with the Broncos, one with the Seattle Seahawks, and three years in the Canadian Football League.

Lydon Murtha was an offensive tackle drafted by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round of the 2009 draft. He was released and then spent three years with the Miami Dolphins.

Nathan Swift was a wide receiver, who signed as an undrafted free agent with the Broncos in 2009 and then was signed off their practice squad by the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he spent one season on their practice squad.

Andy and his wife, Heidi, have two children: Ruby, 10, and Graydon Jr., 8.

Graydon Jr,. who is referred to as “G,” was named after his grandfather. And like his father, “G” has spent a lot of his time at varsity football practices and games.

This Rostberg football coaching tradition might not be ending any time soon.

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