When Cooper Andrews is old enough to understand, someone in his family should tell him about the day his dad was hired as NorthWood High School's football coach. It might be a story he'll want to tell when he gets older.
About 20 minutes before hometown favorite son Nate Andrews was welcomed Monday, Nov. 11, by the school, a little boy ran across the room and was more than a little preoccupied with a football which was set out as a stage prop along with a Panther helmet.
The problem was, the boy couldn't reach the ball. God only knows he tried. “Ball ... ball,'' he said before he was playfully scooped up and whisked away by a family member.
Minutes later, he wandered over for another attempt — and another. It wasn't until after Nate spoke passionately about his family and return to the Nappanee/Wakarusa community when I discovered the boy was his son — 1-year-old Cooper.
It would be easy to envision Cooper, in five or six years, acting exactly like Nate did when his father, Jim, was the NorthWood head coach during the late 1980s.
“I was always around the football program. I was at practice as much, if not more, than the players,” Nate said. “Some of the coaches on the staff then can attest that I was always there. I was probably screwing around half the time.”
One of those very coaches — long-time family friend Steve Neff — confirmed Nate's version of history.
“There were Andrewses and Dodsons and Sniders all over the place. You had to watch where you were stepping,” Neff said Tuesday. “They'd have their little helmets and shoulder pads on and they'd do everything you do.”
Then there were the Thursday night gatherings of seniors at the Andrews home.
“The boys would be right there,” Neff said of Nate and his older brother, Trevor. “They felt part of the football team like they were in every game. They were there at the ice cream socials to the senior Thursday nights. We'd watch film on Sunday night and they'd be right down there in the basement and of course, they'd make Jim mad, but they were good.”
As a boy, Nate said he rode a bike 6 miles to be a part of football practice. He'd jump into drills.
It didn't matter how old he was, Nate said, and his dad never pushed the sport on his children.
“I was there because I wanted to be. Dad never forced me to be there at all,” Nate said. “In fact, he'd try to get up and get out of the house before I could tag along because he didn't want to force me.”
The layers of emotion which Nate embodied while reflecting on his younger days in the NorthWood family spoke volumes for the love he has for those in his life. Andrews grew up in the shadow of a beloved man, teacher and coach, a priority order which he keeps near to his heart.
Nate won't attempt to replicate his father or Rich Dodson, a coaching legend in his own right who married his mom, Sheri, years after Jim's death in 1992.
But he will bring one iron-clad, though not new, philosophy to the table which Jim treasured.
“If I am to come here and try to be Jim Andrews, I'm making a big mistake. There will never be another one,” Nate said. “If I'm coming here trying to be Rich Dodson, I'm making a big mistake. There's not going to be another one.
“Everyone talks about the sudden-change factor ... how to deal with adversity. What defines a man and the character of a man is how he handles adversity.”
It also defines the character of a team and a community, he said.
Nate Andrews has lived sudden change on multiple platforms — from his father's tragic death to his state wrestling championship journey and his four years at Ball State.
There was sudden change in his high school experiences as an assistant at Zionsville, to the coaching snub he received at Bellmont and the rebuilding projects as a head coach at Lapel and Western high schools.
He battled and won at every level — on and off the field.
Nate even fought off a case of nerves, and likely a few tears, as he addressed the gathering of current NorthWood players, friends, family, coaches and community members. He then laughed when he told a story when he was a youth wrestler, a day where he was knotted up with “butterflies everywhere.”
“I said, 'Dad, I'm nervous. What do I do?'” Nate recalled. “He giggled and chuckled. I thought, how can that be funny? He said, 'Son, it's a good thing that you're nervous because it means you care.'”
In the same wonderful way Nate Andrews learned much of his life from Jim, Cooper can look forward to reveling in the same kinds of precious carings and sharings with his dad, too.
It's certainly in his blood.
Bill Beck is The Elkhart Truth sports editor. Contact him on Twitter @BillBeckTruth or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.