In his senior year at Missouri Valley College in 2000, Nathan Danneman took responsibility for initiating incoming freshmen into the football team. So during a preseason meeting inside the campus auditorium, he stood on the stage and introduced his new teammates to the words to the school’s fight song, “Valley Will Roll.”
He banged his fist against a chair as he sang — or more like screamed, really — to elicit a beat for the song. Following his request, a group of freshmen soon joined him on stage, forming a mosh pit of sorts, teammate Daniel Fitzmorris recalled.
“To him, it was like fourth-and-goal to win the game — that was the kind of intensity he brought to starting that (song),” Fitzmorris said. “But he didn’t know any other way to go about it.
“I still smile when I think about that.”
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Danneman, who would later turn his passion into coaching football at West Platte High School, died Wednesday evening in a car wreck. He was 37.
Three others, including his 4-year-old daughter, who was in the back seat of his car, were injured after a tractor-trailer crossed the median of Interstate 29 and struck three vehicles north of Platte City.
Danneman was the West Platte head football and wrestling coach. He was also a physical education and strength conditioning teacher, a job in which he was often known to lead by example — boisterously lifting the iron during a bench press.
His players, coaching colleagues and former football teammates remembered him Thursday for the intensity which he lived and his never-ceasing optimism. Many of them gathered on the football field at West Platte High School late Thursday for a candlelight vigil.
“You already know Coach Danneman is in a bench-off with Jesus in Heaven right now,” former player Hank Bartee said. “And he’s winning.”
A memorial fund was set up on gofundme.com by his twin brother, Jake Danneman, an assistant football coach at Liberty North High School. Jake wrote that Nathan was “a masterful game planner, and that is why I am here writing this today. There are no game plans in life that can prep you for an event such as this tragedy.”
The fund had raised nearly $17,000 for Nathan Danneman’s wife and two daughters as of Thursday evening.
Nathan Danneman coached high school football at Marshall, Richmond and Drexel before landing at West Platte in 2013. He guided West Platte to a 20-28 record in four seasons. The team finished 1-9 last fall.
“I used to joke with him because he was a short guy. But he was bigger than life,” said Robbie Shepherd, his former principal at Drexel.
The players remembered him on Thursday as a loud and funny but compassionate coach who offered support when needed.
A week before the 2016 school year started, senior Alec Carson said he got into a car wreck on his way to a preseason football jamboree. After learning of the incident, Danneman left school to drive to the scene.
“He was one of the first people there,” Carson said. “It really meant the world to me that he cared enough to come to the scene to make sure I was not hurt.
“He truly cared about people. He was a great coach and an even greater man. Every single day I saw him, he always had a smile on his face.”
Danneman’s personality stretched across the coaching community. Lone Jack coach Jason Fenstermaker matched up against Danneman in football and wrestling. He never beat Danneman once on the football field.
At wrestling tournaments, during breaks in the action, Danneman would draw up plays on a napkin or scrap paper, helping Fenstermaker with future seasons’ game plans.
“After we got out butts beat by him, he would show you exactly what he saw and why he did what he did,” Fenstermaker said. “It made me a better coach.”
Danneman was a noted athlete himself — even if his personality fit the part better than his body type did. He was a middle linebacker for Missouri Valley College, where he was named the team’s defensive most valuable player in 2000.
“That dude was the heart and soul of our team,” Fitzmorris said. “He wasn’t the biggest. He wasn’t the fastest. He definitely wasn’t the tallest. But he was just a bowling ball. You didn’t want to get in his way.”