MANKATO, Minn. (FOX 9) - The No.1 ranked Minnesota State University - Mankato football team is on a singular mission this December. Neither a blizzard nor a fourth-quarter deficit in the quarterfinals of the single elimination NCAA Division II playoffs last Saturday would wipe out those dreams.
“Our goal at the beginning of the season was to advance our program further than last year,” said Alex Goettl, a junior linebacker. “We did that last weekend by winning the regional championship. But, we’re not satisfied until we win the national championship.”
For Goettl, the journey has added meaning.
“It’s definitely nice being part of the team,” said Goettl. “It’s like a second family here in Mankato.”
Goettl is the Mavericks leader on defense, topping the team in tackles with a nose for the football. He has been doing it all this season with a giant hole in his heart, missing his most important fan.
“My mom, she was my biggest supporter,” Goettl said. “At the same time, if I was not living up to my full potential, she’d be first to be on me.”
In January 2017, the Goettl family was on a dream vacation to the Caribbean. Everything seemed perfect when the tragedy unfolded right in front of Alex.
During a snorkeling outing near the Bahamas, Alex Goettl’s mother, Michele, began to feel ill. She was struggling to breathe and eventually collapsed as their catamaran bolted towards shore.
The 49-year-old woman, whose life was devoted to her children, was apparently suffering a heart attack. She would be dead on arrival at the Nassau hospital.
“It was really horrible series of events,” said Goettl. “My mom. She planned that vacation. She was excited for it. The fact that it happened while snorkeling, she was looking forward to it more than any of us. Just a horrible series of events. It was the worst nightmare ever.”
His mom’s death rocked him to the core. The Mankato West High School graduate and football standout had chosen to play for the Mavericks in part to be close to his parents. Now, he would have to go on without his greatest cheerleader.
Family members said Alex felt so lost, he contemplated giving up the sport he loved.
“I think the biggest thing that we tried to do here is just be there for Alex,” said Mavericks Head Football Coach Todd Hoffner. “We’re family. We pride ourselves on being family. We just wanted to support Alex through tough times.”
“It was not easy at all,” said Goettl. “I don’t know, I think football helped me cope a little bit and not necessarily get my mind off it, but distracted me a bit. It hasn’t been an easy couple years.”
In the end, he stuck it out, playing inspired football to honor his mother. His jersey number is 49, the age his mom died far too soon. His tattoo is a more permanent reminder that includes Michele’s initials in her original script with a nod to the heart attack that robbed the Goettl family of so many more years with their cherished matriarch.
Alex insists his job now is to make his mom proud on the gridiron every Saturday as the Mavericks extend their post-season run.
“In the locker room before every game, every night before bed, I say a prayer, thinking of her and letting her know everything I do is for her,” he said.
“He’s a very sentimental young man, but he’s carried that passion onto the football field of carrying the responsibility of cherishing his mom and remembering her on a weekly basis,” Hoffner said. “He’s just quality. We’re so impressed with how tough he is.”
Up next for the Mavericks is a semifinal matchup with Ferris State University at home in Blakeslee Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Two more wins and they will claim that national championship, a title Goettl knows his mom will be watching from above, cheering on every tackle.
“I really hope we can win a national championship and know she’d be really happy up there,” he said.