Pierz football coach leads by example on, off field

Categories: Around the Diocese

5A Coach Leo

Coach Leo Pohlkamp, center with red and white jacket, speaks to his team before a playoff game against Albany Oct. 31 at Husky Stadium in St. Cloud. Frank Weber/For The Visitor

By Frank Lee
For The Visitor

Leo Pohlkamp is a winner off the field as he is a winner on the field, according to his pastor and the high school students he mentors as a football coach.

The 62-year-old is a devoted Catholic and role model for the students; he has been head coach of the Pierz Pioneers for three decades and has won two state championships.

“I think it’s very important to thank God for what he has all given me in life,” said Pohlkamp, who attends church religiously with a majority of his football team.

Pohlkamp is a member of St. Michael Parish in Buckman; the Little Falls native is also a lector at the Morrison County parish.

“I think you can lead by example,” he said. “For kids to see me as a coach of a football team but also know that I’m there on Sundays — going to church, attending Mass, plus lectoring in church, distributing Communion — I think that can be a positive thing.”

Life lessons

Pierz beat Jackson County Central 36-8 to win the Class 3A state championship, giving the school its second state championship since 2004.

Derick Hall is a high school junior. The 16-year-old from Pierz is a running back on Pohlkamp’s winning team and is also a Catholic.

“Being Catholic is really important to me just because my family grew up with it, and I actually lost my father when I was little,” Hall said of his faith background.

“I think it’s definitely … pretty cool to see every Sunday he’s always in church. …  He’s very humble about himself, and he’s really adamant about making ourselves better.”

Pohlkamp graduated from St. Cloud State University, and his first job was teaching sixth grade at St. Michael Elementary School.

“It was quite a learning experience. I had to teach religion and plan a Mass with these kids; they don’t prepare you for all this in college,” he said regarding his background.

Hall said, “He teaches us all about respect and loyalty and not to disrespect the other players and treat the property we have with care. He’s just a really good role model, you could say.”

Last year, Pohlkamp was named coach of the year by the Minnesota Vikings for the NFL team’s 13th annual All-State High School Football Team.

“I think in today’s world there are not enough positive role models. Practicing your faith, as a coach, you treat kids with respect, you teach them to work together,” he said.

“Being at a public school, I can’t lead them in prayer, but when we gather together, we talk about playing clean, playing good, hard football, displaying good sportsmanship.”

High praise

Father Ken Popp is pastor at St. Michael in Buckman and St. Joseph Parish in Pierz.

“The young guys on the football team are from both of those parishes,” Father Popp said.

The Rice native graduated from Cathedral High School in 1971 and completed his theological studies for the priesthood at St. John’s Seminary in Collegeville.

“Ever since I’ve known him, which is close to 40 years, he just seems like such a man of integrity with a wonderful outlook. I’ve never heard him use any words that are off-color. He would always speak in a Catholic, Christian manner,” Father Popp said of Pohlkamp.

“He’s a eucharistic minister and lectors, and so I’ve always felt that this was such a wonderful example to all the youth, and I think that has made an impression on the team itself [and] some of the players.”