Looking back now, some 30 years later, I laugh at how I was nervous walking into Ray Hinkamper's home.
It never felt like I was one of his boys because I didn't play for the Redskins. The truth was that we were all his boys, no matter which uniform we wore, be it the Bears, Redskins, Colts or Jets.
If you played in the YMCA Tackle Football League, if you showed passion and commitment to play, if all you wanted was to be around the game, you became one of Hinkamper's boys -- and there are generations of us.
I learned that lesson in 1986, and it kept coming to mind last weekend while driving the quiet highway miles home from Colorado.
I received a text message Friday morning that Hinkamper has passed away at age 78. The driving force behind Quincy's youth football leagues for 40 years and a proponent of all youth sports, Hinkamper left an indelible mark on this community.
For men and boys of all ages, especially those who played for the Redskins, he was best known as "Coach."
That's how I always addressed him, from the day he opened the door to his home to me until the last time I spoke with him.
Quincy University reintroduced football as an intercollegiate sport in the fall of 1986. The Hawks played four home games that season, including a late-season affair against Culver-Stockton College. All of the players in the YMCA league were invited to wear their jerseys to the game on that Saturday.
Like many of my teammates, I showed up wearing my Bears jersey. We hung out most of the day with other the league's other players, including the Redskins.
After the game, several players walked to the Hinkampers' house in a nearby neighborhood. Having developed a friendship through CYO sports with Hinkamper's youngest son, Roy, I was invited to come along.
It made me a little uneasy because I wasn't one of the Redskins, the team Hinkamper coached and always the team to beat. As a 13-year-old, I didn't know Coach Hinkamper very well and wasn't sure he'd be welcoming, even if Roy insisted it would be OK.
Why was I ever worried?
Hinkamper welcomed all of us into his house, not just the Redskins. We talked football with him and discussed how the YMCA all-stars were going to match up with the Quincy Junior High School team in a game to be played at the end of the season at Flinn Stadium.
He saw past the jersey and saw only a lineman who loved the game but needed a mean streak.
I never developed that mean streak. That didn't matter to Coach Hinkamper, nor did it bother him that I attended Quincy High School and not his beloved Quincy Notre Dame.
Hinkamper supported both schools, both football programs and all the kids who used the YMCA league as a stepping stone for their future. He never was about the jersey. He always was about the kids.
That's what made him a coach you grew to respect and love.
It's what made him a coach of us all.