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Former NFL player Winter visits Houghton football team

Finlandia assistant football coach Blaise Winter speaks to the Houghton High School football program Thursday in Houghton. Winter played nine NFL seasons, including five in San Diego, three in Green Bay and one in Indianapolis. (Eddie O’Neill/The Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — The Houghton High School football program was all ears on Wednesday as they listened to the stories and inspiration message of former NFL defenseman Blaise Winter.

Winter, who recently joined the coaching staff for the Finlandia Lions after being invited by their new head coach Mike Dufrane. Winter is the new defensive line coach.

Winter pulled no punches as he told the stor of his difficult life and how he overcame it one step at a time. That attitude eventually led him to play 11 years in the NFL with a number of teams including a three season with the Green Bay Packers.

“I was born with a whole in my face (cleft palate),” he said. “My mom was my leader. She believed in me. My dad was abusive. That’s just the way it was.”

Growing up he was told time and time again by teachers and counselors that he was disabled, and he should make the best of it.

“But my mom was determined to make me somebody,” he said to the 50 or so players and coaches. “She told me to keep my chin up and think positive, and don’t believe the negative things they say about me.”

It was his mom that dropped him off at his first football practice at Tappan Zee High School in Orangeburg, New York. He was terrified, however, not for long.

“After two weeks, I couldn’t wait to get on the field and hit somebody,” he said.

After high school, he again proved the naysayers wrong as he walked on at Syracuse University and was named the team’s MVP in 1983. He was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the second round (35th overall) in the 1984 NFL Draft.

After his playing career, he wrote a book about his journey, and today at age 59, Winter has become a well-sought-after motivational speaker.

His life story was colored with nuggets of wisdom for his football audience.

“What is your reaction to adversity?” Winter proposed. “We cannot go through a day or even a couple of minutes without asking ourselves what can we learn from the good, the bad, that adversity that we face everyday. You need to ask yourself that. It needs to become a part of you. You have to have a habit to figure life out and make it so it becomes you.”

It was a message that Houghton Gremlins head coach Micah Stipech knew his players needed to hear.

“Grit, determination, perseverance and faith — he nailed it on the head,” said Stipech. “I thought it was a message that every kid in America needs to hear. When he told our team that the past did not matter and that we could prove people wrong, I saw a lot of kids heads nodding.”

Among those nodding his head was Gremlin senior and team leader Reed Heathman.

“He is a very likable guy and very inspiring,” said the tight end. “I feel like everyone both the JV and varsity squad was inspired by him. It was a message we needed to hear.”

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