Football luncheon keeps community tradition alive

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Winona State Football’s head coach, Tom Sawyer, addresses fellow coaches, players and Winona community members at Thursday’s Football Luncheon. CAITLIN REINEKE
Winona State Football’s head coach, Tom Sawyer, addresses fellow coaches, players and Winona community members at Thursday’s Football Luncheon.
CAITLIN REINEKE

Michelle Peterson/Winonan

The Winona State Football Luncheons give the community an inside look at Winona State University’s football program and players.

Each Thursday at Riverport Inn, head coach Tom Sawyer reviews the previous week’s game, highlighting any noteworthy plays or players. He also gives a preview of the following week’s game, letting the audience know what to expect.

Sawyer said that the luncheon gives players a chance to practice being in the public eye. They practice speaking in a professional setting, answering questions and introducing themselves.

The audience gets the chance to ask the players questions about football or their personal background.

“It’s a way to keep our community connected to our program,” Sawyer said.

Grant Wall, the sports information director, said, “We’re always trying to reach out to our die-hard fans. We’re part of the community just like any other organization.”

Wall said the luncheon allows players to meet some local Winonans and get used to the town they’ll reside in for the next four years.

Not only does the public get an inside look at Winona State’s football program, but it also gets to see the players in a relaxed and personal setting.

Wall said it is a different experience to see the players in helmets and pads on the field than it is to see them speaking at the luncheon.

“It’s a chance for the community to get to know players personally,” Wall said.

Last week, freshman quarterback Jack Nelson attended his first Winona State Football Luncheon.

“I wasn’t expecting to be here,” Nelson said. “It’s an honor to have been invited.”

Sawyer said he gets the most positive feedback from the audience about meeting the football players.

“What they really enjoy is interacting with the students because they get to see the students in a different light,” Sawyer said.

An offensive and a defensive player attend each luncheon. They introduce themselves, answer any questions and participate in Coach Sawyer’s ‘Hot Seat,’ which gives them 60 seconds to answer questions, such as “Have you ever cried while watching a movie?” or “What’s the best excuse you’ve told a professor?”

The audience laughed at last week’s luncheon when defensive end, Tyler Kubler, attempted to sing the national anthem.

“It’s pretty light and easygoing,” Sawyer said.

The luncheon has been a staple for the football program since Sawyer became head coach in 1996.

Mostly community members make up the audience, since it is open to the public. Luncheons start at noon every Thursday and last about an hour. The $9 entrance cost includes a buffet-style lunch and coffee. No pre-registration is required.

Contact Michelle at [email protected]