Craig McCord still hears Frosty Westering every day.
McCord is in his 27th year on the Pacific Lutheran University coaching staff, and the first without the physical presence of Westering, who died in April at age 85. But as anyone around the Lutes will tell you, the legendary football coach is far from gone.
McCord might be running a defensive drill, or game-planning, and he’ll envision Westering imparting a concept, or a homily, or maybe giving one of his famous “Attaways.” Always lifting up a player, because Westering believed in “put-ups” — the antithesis of put-downs.
“It’s not like he’s gone, totally,’’ said McCord. “Just because so much of what he instilled in all of us is still here and part of us.”
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Saturday, in the midst of a thrilling 17-16 victory over Pacific at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup, the Frosty spirit was palpable. More so even than normal in a season that has been dedicated to Westering with the theme, “The Legacy Lives On In You.”
In fact, after his team had pulled out the game on a last-second 20-yard field goal by senior Nick Kaylor — who had failed to convert on two previous fourth-quarter attempts — coach Scott Westering also felt the spirit of his father. With the team gathered around, he spoke of the “EMAL” mystique — EMAL being one of the innumerable acronyms coined by Frosty, and his most famous: “Every Man A Lute.”
“Thanks, Frosty,’’ Scott said, raising his eyes skyward before returning his focus to the team. “He lived through so many of these, and now you have too.”
Something special is happening this year on the Parkland campus. The Lutes entered the game ranked 17th nationally in Division III. The victory raised their record to 5-1 and kept them on a path toward the playoffs. Those trips haven’t been quite as frequent since Frosty Westering retired in 2004, with four national titles and 305 victories, and turned the program over to his son.
It might be corny to say they are doing it for Frosty, but that’s all right. Frosty, who remained connected with the program right up until his final days, liked corny. And he would love the fact that his unique view of football as a joyful, life-affirming endeavor, is living on, embodied by a new group of young men as imparted by his son.
“Their style, the kind of person they are, personality-wise, is different,’’ McCord said. “But the core values of who they are and what they believe in and the approach they take is the same.”
They are still the nicest team in football, as Sports Illustrated dubbed PLU in 2000. They still help up opponents after they’ve tackled them, even if some fallen foes knock their hand away, or accuse them of “reverse trash talk.”
They still pepper their days with “Attaways.” Those are another Frosty concoction, group cheers in support of helpful people, whether it be a bus driver, flight attendant or teammate. The other day, the Lutes had an “Attaway” for the fog after a soupy practice.
“We’ll give anything an ‘Attaway’ — the mountains, the sunset,’’ said Kellen Westering, a sophomore wide receiver.
Westering, who is playing for his father just as Scott did as an All-American tight end for Frosty in the early 1980s, recalled the surprise of Pacific players last year when the Lutes gave an “Attaway” to one of their assistant coaches who had played at PLU.
“They don’t know how to react, but they knew we’re lifting them up, and that’s the most important thing,’’ Kellen said. “That’s Frosty and that’s my dad, and we continue on the legacy.”
The Lutes still start every season not by putting on pads but by hopping onto a bus and driving to the coast for a retreat they call “Breakaway.” No footballs make the three-day, two-night trip.
“We play games, we compete, we play hustle ball. We sing, a lot,’’ said senior linebacker Ben Kaestner. “Just get to know each other. We have times we get into our notebooks, which are a lot of things Frosty wrote. A lot of poems, beliefs we have here.
“The older guys kind of lead it. We instill what EMAL is all about, what it means to ‘double win,’ which is bringing out the best in yourself and another. That time is probably some of the most meaningful time to me, because we really get to invest in the other guys.”
To know Lute football is to learn not only a new vocabulary, but really an entirely different way of viewing a sport often predicated on violence on the field, and a “my way or the highway” mentality from the coaches.
“Typically, football is taught and it’s all macho, it’s all about kill and intimidation and the enemy,’’ said Scott. “People think that’s the only way you can get people to play physical and hard. We never go that route, but I guarantee you’re going to see some physical football from our kids.”
Said Kaestner: “Hitting doesn’t have to be a mean thing. … You hit them as hard as you can, but then you offer them a hand up with a smile and slap them on the butt. It’s more fun that way. If you’re mad, and that’s the way you’re playing it, with hate, then it’s not as much fun. But if you play with love, which is what we do here, it makes it a lot more fun.”
Love is a word that comes up a lot in the PLU program, and that’s something else that was handed down from Frosty, who strived to motivate without intimidation.
“I totally believed and bought into the philosophy of my father,’’ said Scott Westering, who jokes: “I committed the double cardinal sin: I follow a legend, and I follow my father.”
From the beginning, Scott made the wise decision to not mess with a style that worked so well, and touched so many lives in Frosty’s 38 years at PLU.
“The day I got the job, someone said, ‘Are you ready to start building Scott Westering’s house?’ I said, absolutely not. There’s genius in what my father did. We’re going to remodel it, because I’m kind of the new owner, so to speak. But some of these rooms we’re not going to touch.”
Kellen Westering, along with three PLU captains, was at his grandfather’s bedside at the end.
“We let him know how much we love him and how this season is going to be dedicated to him,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll make him proud. It doesn’t matter how many games we win; just the way we play.”
Kellen has a dream of one day being the third generation of Westering to coach PLU.
“We play for him, and we kind of play through him,’’ he said of Frosty.
PLU’s victory Saturday was amazing in its own right, as Kaylor seized on his chance to be a hero after an earlier fourth-quarter field-goal try sailed wide, and another was blocked.
“One thing this program focuses on is the idea of flushing it, getting rid of the last play, no matter what you did wrong or right,’’ Kaylor said.
Frosty Westering couldn’t have said it any better. And at the postgame “Afterglow” — another holdover from his years, a chance for players and their families to relive the positive elements of the game, win or lose — Donna Westering was called upon to speak. The matriarch of the family, married 61 years to the old coach, now proudly watching her son run the team and her grandson play on it, led one last “Attaway.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146