By JIM MISUNAS
WICHITA — Green Bay Packer Hall of Famer Paul Coffman feels blessed.
The native of Chase who played college football at Kansas State University was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame Sunday night. Chase High School qualified for the Class 1A football playoffs during Coffman’s senior year in 1973 and lost to Quinter, the eventual state champion.
“For me to get a tryout in the NFL is nothing short of a miracle,” Coffman said. “The favor of God was on my side. Growing up in a town of 600 people, I got to experience the NFL in one of the league’s greatest franchises.”
Coffman said he was lucky to be seen by a Packers scout when he worked out next to Kansas State linebacker Gary Spani, who was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs.
“When quarterback Bart Starr welcomed me to camp, chills went through my body,” Coffman said. “I was in the right place at the right time. Hard work meant something. The Green Bay coaches put me into position to succeed. Bart Starr and the coaches looked at what I could do well. When I got the opportunity, I performed.”
Other Hall of Fame inductees were Sterling College basketball coach Lonnie Kruse; Kansas State basketball player Shalee Lehning; Kansas linebacker Terry Beeson; Butler County football coach Troy Morrell; Pittsburg State athlete Brian Moorman; Kansas State jumper Kenny Harrison; Kansas softball coach Tracy Bunge; Atchison basketball coach Chic Downing;Wichita State athlete Dick Sanders; and Topeka baseball player Ken Berry.
Coffman played against some of the greatest players in the NFL.
“New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor was one of the best and the 1985 Bears that had Mike Singletary, Otis Wilson and Wilbur Marshall would just beat you up,” he said.
“Each week you have to prepare for some of the best athletes who are aggressive and ornery,” he said. “You had to be prepared because everyone is big, fast and strong. I had to stay focused my whole career. I always played against guys bigger and faster than me. If I didn’t have a good week of practice, I didn’t have a good game.”
Coffman’s father and grandfather graduated from Kansas State University. He knew Little River’s Perry Viers, McPherson’s Vic Chandler and Bogue’s Marvin Switzer, who played football at Kansas State.
“I’d seen guys from small towns in Kansas contribute to the team,” Coffman said.
Vince Gibson recruited him after Coffeyville Community College had signed him. The Wildcats were 3-8, 1-10 and 1-10 during Coffman’s three seasons. They played Florida State, BYU and Texas A&M besides the Big 8 teams.
“Vince was a Southern guy. He told me, ‘You’ll be a fine, fine ballplayer at Kansas State. There’s just one thing wrong. We’re out of scholarships. But don’t worry about not having a scholarship. We’ll run some guys off during two-a-days.’
“At K-State, we were one of the worst college football teams in the U.S. But I had a great time at K-State.”
Coffman credits his work ethic from his parents, who taught him to always be learning something. His mother would bring popsicle sticks, glue and string and have her students build something.
“I reflect back to my childhood in Chase, Kansas, and the people who molded me,” he said. “My father, who adopted me, was a school teacher who had a great balance of hard work and education.”
In Chase, oil field work and farming were the primary trades.
“You didn’t work from 9 to 5. It was never too hot or too cold,” he said. “They worked until they got the job done even if it took until 3 in the morning. If you worked at the grain elevator in town, you had to get the wheat out of the field. Seeing that type of dedication carried me on. That helped me overcome being a walk-on at K-State and being an undrafted player.”
Coffman defended the value of football and the life lessons players learn.
“Sports is not always fair, not always fun and you don’t always win,” he said. “It’s a lot like life. You do it because you love it. There is risk-and-reward in everything in life. You’ve got to take risks. There were hard times at Kansas State. You’ve got to overcome adversity. Those things molded my character and helped me make the Green Bay Packers roster.”
Coffman liked his hometown so much, he named one of his sons Chase, who plays tight end for the Tennessee Titans. Carson Coffman played quarterback at Kansas State and Cameron Coffman plays quarterback at Wyoming. Camille Coffman was a volleyball player at Wyoming.
“I was proud to grow up in Chase, Kansas. I’m sure he’s glad we didn’t grow up in Peabody,” he said.