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'He'll always hold a special spot in our hearts': Vermilion pays tribute to Kobal

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    Matt Kobal



VERMILION — The staff and students of the Vermilion school district, as well as members of the community, gathered in the gymnasium of Vermilion High School on Tuesday evening to say goodbye to the man who was simply known to many as “Coach Kobal.”

Sailors football coach Matt Kobal died Nov. 17 after a sudden illness. Kobal, a 1998 Vermilion graduate, was 38 years old.

Kobal only had the opportunity to be the head coach at Vermilion for one season, but he was an assistant coach at the school from 2004-12 and again in 2015-16. To hear his players talk about him, the impact he made on the school, its football program and the community will live on well into the future.

“He’ll always hold a special spot in our hearts and everyone will always be thinking of him,” senior linebacker Trevor Boyd said. “He showed us how to win and taught us what if felt like to win.”

Kobal was an offensive lineman on the last Vermilion football team to qualify for the playoffs in 1997. He went on to play at Mount Union where he won an NCAA Division III national championship. In February, he was named the Sailors’ head coach, taking over a program that had won just 12 games in the last five years. Kobal guided the Sailors to a 5-5 record, the best finish for a Vermilion football team since 2008.

“Coach Kobal meant a lot to me and everyone in this community,” junior quarterback Seth Hurd said. “He found the perfect balance between being a best friend, a head coach and a father figure to everyone on our team, and he did it very well. He put countless hours into this program. He made us believe we were capable of succeeding. What we did this year was all because of him.”

Kobal often used the hashtag #BelieveItDoIt on his Twitter account and since his death his players and students have been using that slogan in their social media posts to honor the man who was also an Intervention Specialist at the school and a statistician for the boys basketball and baseball teams. They also used white plastic cups to spell out the slogan on the fence surrounding the school’s football stadium.

“Coach was huge on telling us ‘Nothing is impossible,’” senior lineman Tyler Bath said. “He would never shoot down our goals. He’d tell us if we want it, we have to go get it and we have to believe in ourselves. That slogan fit perfectly into our program and we felt like it fit perfectly to express him.”

Vermilion athletic director Andrew Stillman said it will be difficult to find another coach who will possess all of the same qualities as Kobal.

“He was so committed to Vermilion, and the football program in particular,” Stillman said. “He was willing to do whatever it took, no time commitment and no sacrifice was too great. Everything he did was to make those kids and our football program better. He was on his way to being one of the greatest of all time, no doubt.

“To be honest with you I don’t know that anyone can fill his shoes. Matt was such a perfect fit for the position and the community. He was a winner in every sense of the word. It’s such an incredible loss, it’s so unfortunate for his family, the school and Vermilion community in general.”

Junior wide receiver Jonah Pfeil will remember how much Kobal cared about all of his students.

“He made everyone feel important,” Pfeil said. “Every Friday, Coach would get pizza and cheesy bread and I’d come into his room ninth period and we would just talk. His door was always open to all of his students.”

Kobal is still going to have a big impact on the 2018 Vermilion football team.

“His passing is going to motivate us to work even harder,” Pfeil said. “We’re going to give everything we’ve got to finish what he started.”

Kobal’s death hasn’t just affected his students and athletes, it has touched the entire community.

“It’s been almost eerie how quiet and how sad this entire school has been the last two days,” Bath said. “It really shows how much of an impact Coach Kobal had at Vermilion.”

Kobal is survived by his wife, Amanda, and daughter Gracie, as well as parents Edward and Barbara Kobal.

Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or

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