It was one of the most stirring homecoming events in recent memory.
While former Brainerd Warriors defensive coordinator Steve Nunnink continues his courageous fight in the Twin Cities to recover from the brain aneurysm he suffered 14 months ago, more than 200 alumni football players turned out at Adamson Field to support his family.
Before Friday's 23-13 victory over St. Cloud Tech, former Warriors from 1975 to 2003 congregated to socialize. They autographed two No. 65 Brainerd jerseys, the number Nunnink wore as a college football player.
Brainerd defensive lineman Travis Fox (93) chased St. Cloud Tech Tigers quarterback Jordan Hansel out of bounds Friday. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood
The former players formed a tunnel for the current Warriors to run through before the game. Just before kickoff, they unfurled a banner that said, "Steve, Randi, Stephanie, Erika, Our thoughts and prayers are with you."
Later, they sold T-shirts that say, "Brainerd Football: Tradition Never Graduates." Proceeds from T-shirt sales will go to the Nunnink family.
Alumni also sold tickets to the Nunnink benefit, scheduled 5 p.m. Oct. 30 at the Brainerd Armory.
"It was wonderful," Warriors head coach Ron Stolski said of the festivities. "I really appreciate all these people, particularly P.J. Smith and Steve Mans, that got ahold of this thing and did such a good job with it. I know it's a great fund-raiser for coach but it's also great to see the number of alumni back."
Smith, class of 1979, said the event came together quickly and it was neat to see people from all the different classes.
"I actually got e-mails from kids that I didn't know from all kinds of different years who basically said, 'How can I help?'" Smith said. "With that, we were able to pull off, what I think, was a pretty good event. It will be interesting to see what kind of money we raise."
Smith said the goal is for alumni to raise $25,000. He said they are shy of that figure at the moment but they are not finished collecting funds.
"These coaches have passed on quite a tradition and quite a legacy," Smith said. "I think that's what's compelling to these kids, to remain part of that."
Mans, class of 1977, thought the turnout was impressive considering former players are spread all over the country.
"The guys who came back were excited to see their old buddies again, but most of them knew why they really came back," Mans said. "We're just hoping (Nunnink) pulls through. He keeps improving.
"He's such a quality person, and his family. His wife, Randi, is such a sweetheart. We're hoping we can maybe turn this into some kind of a yearly thing where maybe we have a golf tournament or something where we can get the guys back every year."
Mans shrugged off the credit that has come his and Smith's way for setting up the event.
"It certainly wasn't just P.J. and I by any means," Mans said, "and some people tried to make it look that way. While we kind of headed it up as far as trying to get things organized a little bit, it was a lot of people that put their efforts into it."
Current Warriors captain and linebacker Korey Horn was appreciative of the alumni's efforts.
"They came back for coach and homecoming," he said. "Those guys are all donating, supporting coach in every way they can. There were a lot of younger guys from last year who showed up, and some guys from 1975. It was really great to see."
* Defensive linemen Travis Fox and Ryan McKay recovered fumbles.
* Linebacker Kiel Browne intercepted a pass.
* Linebacker Will Kassulker recorded a quarterback sack.
Mike Bialka, sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.
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