WEBSTER – Last season one of Webster’s biggest football supporters was located in Africa, relegated to watching games live on the internet at 3 a.m.
That individual, Tanner Christensen has now returned to his former position as head coach of the Bearcats. Christensen served an 11-month deployment with the 196th Maneuver Enchancement Brigade out of Sioux Falls. He was stationed in Djibouti, Africa, just north of Somalia.
“Temperatures were nice and warm,” Christensen said of the area where he served. “Everybody complains that our weather got hot this summer. (There) it was anywhere from 110 to 120 on a typical daily basis, still humid.”
Christensen said his body is still trying to adjust to the current climate, especially morning practices when temps are in the 70s.
While Christensen obviously missed his wife and two children, he said it was diffficult having to tell last year’s seniors that he was not going to be able to coach them their final season.
“These guys put in their time, their effort and their heart, and unfortunately I had to miss it,” Christensen said. “That was one of the hardest things as I walked away was telling those seniors, see you later.”
Christensen left the program in the hands of his assistants, so he was not concerned a bit what would take place with Webster football while he was halfway across the world. Wade Rausch served as the interim head coach last season.
“Having a coaching staff behind you, that athletic director, having those guys I knew had my back, I knew it was in good hands and I was going to come back to a stable foundation still there,” Christensen said.
While the foundation was still there when Christensen returned home, some of his players had a much different physique than they did the last time he saw them.
“All of a sudden some of these kids go from being 5-4, 5-5 and 130 pounds, 140 pounds and now they’re facing me eye-to-eye at 5-10, 6-foot and 160 pounds, 170 pounds,” Christensen said. “It’s like, oh, OK, you found the weight room for a change.”
While Christensen had access to American food and could Facetime family and friends, he was confined to a small living space of about 20 feet which included a bed, desk and sink.
One of the small things he really missed about home was grass.
“As small as that is, there wasn’t any,” he said. “It was rock, it was dirt, it was sand. It was very different.”
Christensen moved around a lot growing up, and has lived in Webster since 2014. He considers the town his home.
“Coming up here this has become home,” he said. “This is the longest I’ve lived anywhere is here in Webster, so I very much appreciate this being home and being able to come back to it was fun.”
He was also excited to get back to his team after a year-long hiatus.
Christensen said being back after missing a season has rekindled his fire and desire for the sport.
“Personally this was the hardest thing for me to leave and have to step away from it for that long. But when I came back this year it’s that renewed energy,” he said. “Something that you’ve had taken away for so long, that you’re like, OK, I’m just amped back up to go do it again.”
Like he did before, Christensen had members of the National Guard come in and talk to his players this fall. Much of the discussion focuses on details.
“We still have drill sergeants come in typically day one, first week and put the kids through about an hour and half. The biggest thing with it was the attention to detail, finding all those little things and those small things,” Christensen said. “They have to focus on those. Football is such a game of inches. It can be my right arm is an inch to the left instead of an inch to the right and now I can’t get my hook block. It is down to that minute of details that they have to be able to focus.”
Christensen said details make a big difference regardless of what your situation is.
“In our world of military it’s life or death. You are there and that inch, two inches could be detrimental completely,” he said. “Whereas in (football), yes it’s a game, but it’s detrimental to their team and to their guys.”
Christensen will be on the sidelines at Swisher Friday night when the Bearcats face Aberdeen Roncalli at 8 p.m. in the Hub City Bowl. While the two schools went nearly a decade without playing because Webster dropped to nine-man for a while, there is no denying that the game continues to have added meaning.
“That’s still a huge rivalry. Enough people here in Webster still have that old-school mentality, and old-school feel,” Christensen said. “It’s one of those things, they’re a close team, between them and Groton, and now we’ll add Dakota Hills into this mix. It’s like let’s have some fun along the highway and play.”
Spoken like somebody who is truly glad to be home.
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