Nate Brinkman moved to Hutchinson the summer before his third-grade year. His father, Dan Brinkman, who coached with Hutch for 30 years before retiring, began coaching that fall.
“From then on I went to practice after school with him through elementary school,” Brinkman said. “I remember being at practice everyday just watching what's going on.”
Nate joined the varsity football program in 1994. He played two years at cornerback under his dad, who was the secondary coach. During his junior year, the Tigers made it all the way to the Metrodome before losing in overtime to Northfield in the state semifinal.
With his dad as coach and always in his ear, Nate said it was sometimes hard to separate the two personalities, dad and coach. Sometimes he felt that his dad was being harder on him than the rest of the players, but going through that helped them build their relationship.
“We, I think, ended up having a good relationship through it,” he said. “He was always wanting the best for me and had high expectations for me. There's always more difficult times than others, a little more stress sometimes. In the end it was a really good experience for both of us.”
After high school, Brinkman studied to be a teacher and played four years of football at the University of Minnesota, Morris. After graduating, he landed in Mountain Lake and has taught sixth-graders since.
Although there were no open coaching positions his first year, Brinkman helped coach junior high his second year and earned an assistant coach position on the varsity team in 2003.
As a coach for the Wolverines 9-man football team, Brinkman has experienced some of the same heartbreak he felt with the Tigers. The Wolverines played at state in 2017 and 2018, falling in the semifinal and final games, respectively
Those tough losses were a distant memory after this past Prep Bowl, however, as Brinkman and the Wolverines won the state championship.
“It was an incredible feeling,” he said. “Two years ago nobody expected a lot out of us ... Our goal was to take it that one step further. We had a bunch of kids that have actually played for the last two years. It was really amazing.”
One of the things Brinkman learned during his time as a Hutch Tiger was to be a selfless teammate and to do what is best for the team. He's taken that philosophy and instilled it in the minds of his new team in Mountain Lake.
“It's about being part of a team and doing your part and working together towards that common goal,” he said. “I've tried to carry that over in my coaching.”
Like his father, Nate coaches defense for Mountain Lake. But that's not all he and his father have in common. Nate also coaches his stepson, Mace Herring, who he has helped raise since he was 2 years old. Herring was the tailback and defensive end for the Wolverines this past season. He came through with a huge game in the state final, recording six tackles and three sacks.
Coaching his stepson has given Brinkman a perspective for what it was like for his dad coaching him.
“It helps me understand how he was feeling,” Brinkman said. “It gives me a new appreciation for what he did for me and how much of a good experience it was for him to be able to be down on the sidelines with me playing.”
Even after being away from Hutch football for many years, there are many lessons he carries with him from the Tiger culture that has helped him become a championship coach. Lessons Brinkman hopes will carry on throughout the years at Mountain Lake.
“It was so much more than football,” he said about Hutch football. “It was about doing the right thing all the time. Just being selfless and working hard and being a part of the team.”