Pete Verdeja, a retired postal employee, casts a big shadow when his many contributions to the New Life football program are added up. Submitted photo by Lori Wietecki
Pete Verdeja isn't a teammate or an assistant coach or a manager, but in a way, he's a mix of all three.
You'll never see Verdeja's name on the stats sheet or in the newspaper. Yet to the New Life Academy football program, the 58-year-old retired postal worker means everything.
"He's just been such a blessing to our program," head coach Paul Mork said.
If the first-aid kid needs to be restocked, Verdeja's there. If the field needs maintenance, Verdeja's there. If a player's equipment needs repairing, Verdeja's there. Handling on-field refreshments, doing cleanup, providing supplies -- tack them all onto his to-do list.
"He's a jack of all trades. He just does every little odd job that lets the rest of us keep coaching and not waste time over little things like that," Mork said. "But it's those little things that are so important."
Verdeja, a postal worker for 36 years, has been involved with the school in Woodbury for about 25 years. He's seen four of his children graduate from New Life Academy, with the last ones -- twin girls -- coming through in 1996. Verdeja used to help keep the scorebook for boys' junior varsity basketball games at the request of then and current athletics director Curt Wetsel.
When Verdeja heard New Life Academy was starting a football program in 2008, he gave Wetsel a phone call asking if they needed any help.
"I've been the gofer guy for them for the last four years now," Verdeja said.
Verdeja wasn't involved much in sports growing up. Just under 5-feet tall, he stuck with playground football and some junior high baseball, then went on to referee basketball for 20 years and umpire varsity softball for 15 years. Helping out the Eagles nowadays is a good way to keep busy and give back.
Typically, the football team has had two student managers, whom Verdeja has supervised and assisted. This year, for whatever reasons, there were no takers.
Pete, as the players call him, stepped up.
"And we never missed a beat because of Pete," Mork said. "He just does everything. Everything that managers do -- and more."
Verdeja attends all the games, practices and team functions. He also loaned his pickup for some strength and conditioning drills. At the end of two-a-day practices this past preseason, Mork had the players push Verdeja's truck 50 yards for a timed sprints exercise. Verdeja sat in the driver's seat at the wheel.
"It was so symbolic of a group trying to become a family because they all love Pete," Mork said.
Verdeja a diabetic, has been struggling more recently with health problems. If his health improves a little bit, he wants to return to assist Eagles football next season.
One thing's for certain, he's thankful for the opportunity to be part of the program.
"I do appreciate coach Mork letting me work with him and the coaches and the kids," Verdeja said. "I've enjoyed it, and I hope I can enjoy next year yet."