Learning life lessons on the gridiron

At a recent Proctor football practice, head coach Dave Hylla looked like he was just one of the boys. He was running with some of players and showing some blocking techniques -- all with a smile on his face.

At a recent Proctor football practice, head coach Dave Hylla looked like he was just one of the boys. He was running with some of players and showing some blocking techniques -- all with a smile on his face.

That smile is contagious. Even though the Rails lost their starting quarterback, along with a few other starters for various reasons, the team was in good spirits.

They were hitting each other hard -- as they were supposed to. Yet, laughter echoed on the field.

But Hylla, who has been coaching the Rails for 27 years, does more than coach great football.

Derek Parendo, an assistant coach on the team and a former player, said Hylla teaches his players life skills and how to "get the job done."


When Parendo's mom died, he said he looked back on when Hylla talked about adversity during practice and it helped him get through the ordeal.

"The life lessons he taught makes him a good coach," said Parendo, who now teaches science and physics at Proctor High School.

Helping kids grow into responsible adults is part of Hylla's game plan.

"Football is not about X's and O's," he said. "It's about relationships."

Hylla's philosophy has helped him become a winning coach. He is less then 10 wins away from 200.

"If you would have asked me 20 years ago (about 200 wins) I would have told you it was a pipe dream," said Hylla. "I don't use it as a driving force."

Some the techniques they use include a rigorous preparation, instilling confidence and teaching players personal and individual responsibility.

"You build a program around a set of beliefs," said Hylla, who teaches economics, sociology and a strength-and-fitness class at Proctor High School. "We want them to be coaches on the field. We want them to know the opposing team as well as themselves."


Rory Johnson, Proctor High School's athletic director, said the players respect Coach Hylla.

In order to be a good coach, one must establish himself as a person the kids want to play for, Parendo said.

Hylla's has faced many tough opponents throughout the years.

"The toughest games are the ones you should win, but lost," Hylla said.

Hylla said many times he replays the games (he lost) in his head when trying to sleep.

Those games aren't just from the past year or so, sometimes he can remember a play from 20 years ago.

Sometimes he'll run into people from past years who played for him and he'll mention a play they made.

According to Hylla, his mind is like a CD-ROM.


This mind, along with a strong football tradition at Proctor, has led to six chances at a state championship. He has never won it all at Proctor.

Maybe this season is their year. They have started out hot, going 6-0 against opponents such as Hermantown, International Falls, Ashland and Mora.

Last year's team was 11-0 before suffering a loss to Becker in the Class AAA State Quarterfinals.

Even though this loss may have played over and over again like a VCR in Hylla's mind, it has not deterred him from coaching.

He actually wasn't sure when he should quit, until he had a conversation with Mike Sertich, former UMD hockey head coach.

Sertich told Hylla you'll know it's time to quit when you quit enjoying it.

"I'm still enjoying it," Hylla said.

Hylla not only applies his set techniques on the football field, but in the classroom as well.


"The classroom is the same way," said Hylla. "Your best teachers are coaches."


Hylla has not gone unnoticed for his efforts. He received the Minnesota Power of Influence Award.

This award, which was created by the American Football Coaches Association, recognizes coaches who effect their players, schools and community positively. The award is not based on wins and losses.

This Saturday, Hylla will receive the George Haun Award from the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association. This award is given to individuals who have great dedication and service to the MSHSCA.

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