Thursday, November 1, 2007

Coach Hep Remembered

With three games left in the regular season, us Hoosiers are on the brink of earning our sixth win and becoming bowl eligible. We are prepared to win all of our final games. In honor of our being able to become eligible this weekend I want to take a step back and let everyone re-focus on who this season is dedicated to, Coach Hep. We wouldn't be in this position if it weren't for his vision and dedication to us, Hoosiers.

I recently wrote an essay for "The Quad," a New York Times Blog. It explains what we've been through and where we are now. I'm now posting it on my site just incase you didn't catch it or were unable to comment. Enjoy.

This summer we, the Indiana University football team, faced a tragedy that few of us were ready for. On June 19th, immediately after our morning workouts, Coach Bill Lynch called an urgent team meeting. That’s when the entire I.U. football family received the news. Terry Hoeppner had passed away at the age of 59. I know that many of us were in shock and spent the whole day making and receiving phone calls about the heart-breaking news. We were also wondering, What do we do now? Adversity had hit us directly in the face.

Since Coach Hep’s passing the players have felt a new sense of pride from knowing that he was our coach. His life was an inspiration to us all. We have been striving each day to honor Hep by practicing and playing hard, doing our jobs and never quitting.

We know that we are striving to achieve Hep’s goal for us - to play in a bowl game - but we know that success will not come all at once. The team has been focused on taking things one day at a time, one practice at a time, one game at a time and one play at a time. A fire burns within each player to finish what Hep started.
When I think of Terry Hoeppner I will not only remember him as a football coach. I will remember him for the strength that he displayed throughout his illness and for his integrity. He always set the perfect example for us. In times of adversity, whether it was his own or someone else’s, he always seemed to know what to say and do. He continually stressed to his players the need to do the right thing and to be in the right place at the right time. I will remember him for his faith. Hep was a true Christian and he lived his faith every day. He would often remind us that there is more to life than just football. Also, that our performance on the field is not what defines us as people. It is your faith and how you live your life off of the field that counts more than anything. He encouraged us to pray, for he believed in the power of prayer. Hep told us to live every day to the fullest and to take nothing for granted. This whole experience has taught us that.

Hep always told the team that there was no place he’d rather be than right there with us. We knew it was the truth because it showed every day. He really loved all of us and we loved him back. He was the strongest person I’ve ever known. To be afflicted with such an illness and to not have it affect his mood, attitude or faith in any negative way was, and still is, amazing to me. He always said that he had no problems, just opportunities. With the spirit Hep showed each day, you would never have known he was sick.

Hep provided me with many memories that stand out in my mind. There’s one from my freshman year that most of my teammates and I will never forget. During my first training camp I hurt one of my fingers on the final play of a practice. Immediately after the play we began something we called The Fourth Quarter, where the whole team got into their stretching lines and performed push-ups, sit-ups and up-downs on Coach’s command. They had to be done quickly and only when Coach called for your side of the ball (offense or defense) to perform the exercise.

Coach Hep began the drill by yelling, “Push-up position!” Still worried about my finger, I was very slow to get down. Taking notice, Coach Hep called me out by saying, “Everybody up! Bryan Payton can’t do the drill because his finger hurts!”
He then kicked me out of the drill. I was shocked! I kept wondering if he was mad at me. After practice I was afraid of running into him, thinking that he would scold me for slowing up the drill. I actually ended up running into him near the football offices later that day. I tensed up nervously as he walked toward me. To my surprise, he actually had a huge smile on his face. He stopped in front of me and before I could apologize, he patted me on the back and asked me how my finger was. I told him I had strained some ligaments, but I’d be O.K. His response was that he was glad because I would be needed. That made my day.

That’s how Hep was with all of us players. He truly cared about us. He loved us. He loved I.U. He loved his job. He was always so happy to be the head football coach at Indiana. This was his dream job. He cherished it every day and showed love to everyone he came across. He made an impression on everybody he met.

Before our first home game, versus Indiana State, there was a special tribute for Coach Hep. It was such a heartwarming scene when Mrs. Hoeppner walked out to midfield, was introduced and received a rousing standing ovation. As she lifted her hands to the sky I couldn’t help but get choked up. She is truly a mirror image of Terry Hoeppner. She is such a strong woman. I cannot find the words to describe her great faith and the love she has for the Indiana University football family. Words just wouldn’t do her justice. She is truly a woman of God and I speak for the whole team when I say we love her back.

As Mrs. Hoeppner and the rest of the Hoeppner family stood at midfield, a video was shown of Coach Hep and his moments as I.U. football coach. So many other memories ran through my mind while watching the video. It felt like he was there. Sometimes I still can’t believe he’s gone.

God works in mysterious ways. I’m not sure why God took Coach Hep from us but I do know that there was a purpose for it. Hep feels no more pain, no more suffering; he has no worries, no sickness. Knowing that was, and still is, very comforting. I believe that God placed Coach Lynch as Hep’s assistant head coach for a reason. Coach Hep had full faith in him and so do the players.

Terry Hoeppner was an extraordinary man. He had such a positive impact on so many people’s lives and he will never be forgotten. We miss him dearly and this season is dedicated to him.


Anonymous said...

Amen! You're a leader, Brian. So, rally the troops...we've GOT to win two more. We're behind you guys all the way!

Anonymous said...

That was great Bryan! GO IU

lori lane said...

This is a wonderful tribute to Coach Hep. Looking forward to the game tomorrow! The Hoosier Nation is with you! WE BELIEVE!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, Bryan. Just beautiful.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful thoughts.

Jimmy said...

Hey Bryan.....BEAT PURDUE!!!!

lori lane said...

Byran, good luck to you and the Hoosiers at the Bucket game. WE BELIEVE!

My Hoosier Football Photos

Mike P. said...

Congrats on beating the Boilers. I would say you are Tempe bound to play the Insight Bowl! Great job this season!

Ceejay said...

Wonderful win... congratulations to you and all of your team. I can't wait to read your next blog entry. So.... where is it? :-)


Rena Ball said...

Congratulations on the win Saturday. I hope that you guys make some bowl somewhere. You all deserve it with everything that has happened. I like reading your blogs. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Byran, absolutely beautiful--thank you. Hep will always be in our hearts. We will be pulling for you win game 13! Thanks again for this wonderful post--you are a tribute to our great university.

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