John Lind knew Grant Thierolf coached a sport. He just wasn’t sure which one. When he approached Thierolf for the first time, Thierolf could have guessed Lind wouldn’t become one of his players.
“He was a long, gangly freshman who had an interest in sports, but it wasn’t really a burning desire to do things,” Thierolf said.
By the time they met, Thierolf was a community staple with a quarter century of experience coaching the Marion Warriors football team.
Lind’s first impression was different.
“So this is Mrs. Thierolf’s husband,” Lind remembered thinking, referring to his middle school math teacher. “All right, then.”
Thierolf said Lind was “squirrely,” with a predilection for Mountain Dew. Lind said Thierolf was bear-like, knowing when “to show some claws to make guys do what they’re supposed to do.”
While the two may make unlikely forest friends, they worked well together in their roles for the football team.
“He became a very valuable member of our staff as far as being self-directed and being concerned about the quality of what he was doing,” Thierolf said.
Thierolf every year takes many freshmen under his wings as a coach, with the goal to develop them over four years. These freshmen are thought of as aspirant athletes, kids who will work out every day to run faster, hit harder, and reach new heights. Lind was a protégé of a different sort.
He wanted to be team manager.
“I’m not a very physical person,” said Lind, a matured, bulked up version of the freshman he once was. “There’s been times where I’ve wanted to go and hit somebody, tackle them to the ground, but I probably wouldn’t be able to survive that kind of stuff. That and I’ve got an awful sense of balance.”
As a manager, Lind developed in a way that has many parallels to what Thierolf would see from his players.
“In John’s case, he’s kind of evolved through the years as a guy we had to give a lot of direction to as a freshman and remind him of things,” Thierolf said. “By the time he was a junior and senior, he took charge of everything and he would be where he was supposed to be.”
That sounds like praise reserved for a player, but Lind’s duties were much different.
Lind attended every practice. He helped set up, make sure water bottles and Gatorade coolers were filled, medical kits were stocked, and was available to attend to coaches’ general needs.
“Stay close to a coach in case they need something,” Lind said. “Normally I’d hang out around Coach (Mark) Meyer and Coach Thierolf. I would also hold the playbook for scout team in practice.”
Perhaps the most important role Lind played was that of filmmaker. He shot film for games, which would be analyzed to help the players improve on technique and traded with opposing teams for scouting.
Lind remembered getting assigned to film duty after the previous jobholder left on short notice. Coach Shaun Craft approached him and other managers.
“Hey, do any of you guys know how to run a camera?” Craft asked.
“Yeah, kind of,” Lind said, volunteering himself.
“Do you want to do it for games?” Craft asked him.
“Sure, what do I have to do?” Lind inquired.
“Just follow the ball,” Craft said.
Lind said his first film was subpar.
“It was not the prettiest sight to see,” he said. “It was pretty bad and shaky. It probably didn’t help that I was drinking Mountain Dew and eating Skittles at the same time.”
Lind eventually learned the intricacies of filming, Thierolf said.
“Other schools send us film that’s from a million miles away, or from three feet away, or it starts in the middle of the play, or ends as the play is in progress, or ends 40 seconds after the play has been done,” he said. “We never had to worry about that with John.”
Lind hit a growth spurt over the past year and now struts around in a lineman’s frame. Thierolf said he and Lind talked about the possibility of Lind putting pads on and playing, but ultimately decided against it.
“We saw how big he was getting, but at the same time we knew that his skill level would be that of a freshman,” Thierolf said. “We knew we didn’t want to lose him on the film side because, as coaches, we know how valuable that is.”
Over their four years together, Lind said he gained tremendous respect for Thierolf as a leader.
“He treats me as if I were one of the players,” Lind said. “And the players treat me with the same respect as they would treat each other, which is really nice. It’s one of the nice things about being on the team. It’s that you’re actually a part of the team.”
Their relationship grew through football, even if it wasn’t the conventional coach-player relationship.
“It’s like any other freshman-to-senior transition,” Thierolf said. “You come in and you know they don’t know much of anything. By the time they’re at the end of their four years, you become friends with them.”