PAXTON — Clint Forsyth’s success as head football coach at Paxton High School extended beyond the field, as he set an example of leadership and character that continues to stay with his former student-athletes to this day.
“The way he carried himself, the way he dealt with his family, his athletes — at the time, he was just a great coach who we had complete faith and trust in on the football field, but as I have gotten older, so many of his lessons carried over to how I raised my sons, did my job, my life and, of course, coached,” said Rocky Marron, a member of the Paxton Mustangs’ 1984 state runner-up team.
Mr. Forsyth was Paxton High’s head football coach from 1979 to 1986, leading the Mustangs to an 11-2 record and state championship game appearance in 1984. In 2018, he was inducted into the Illinois High School Football Hall of Fame.
Following Mr. Forsyth’s death on Oct. 18 at age 84, his former football players — and others who knew him — remembered a man whose accomplishments on the football field were more than matched by his accomplishments off of it.
“He was the embodiment of leadership, showing us all the importance of family, of sacrificial love and of character. He did things without waiting to be asked or seeking to be recognized,” said his son, Bret Forsyth. “And because of this, Clint’s life blessed others in countless ways. He taught us all that, in a world of too much stuff and too little time, life could really be so simple. That it’s about showing up when you’re needed, talking less and doing more, and being a gift to others just by being you.”
Tom Meents, who was a starting center and defensive tackle for the Mustangs under Mr. Forsyth, called him “an awesome, caring coach, motivator, mentor and caring father figure to many Paxton students and athletes.”
“He will truly be missed by everyone, and I believe that the time he spent guiding his students helped to set them up for adulthood success,” Meents said.
Former PHS football player Bill King said he “got two things from Coach Forsyth: a confidence and an inner toughness and endurance that I wouldn’t have known was there.”
“Also, a sense of kindness and fair play,” King said. “Both of those traits have served me well in life.”
Former Paxton-Buckley-Loda head football coach Jeff Graham, who played football as a freshman and sophomore at PHS under Mr. Forsyth, said Mr. Forsyth was a huge influence on him as a coach.
Mr. Forsyth brought a wing-T offense to Paxton High School’s football program, Graham said. The wing-T offense would become a staple of Paxton/PBL football for “quite a few years,” Graham said.
“His philosophy had a huge impact on me as a young coach, and some of the things I did throughout my entire coaching career can go back to Coach Forsyth,” Graham said. “He was a very, very smart offensive tactician; when he was retired and I was coaching, I couldn’t wait to talk offense with him and pick his brain.”
Graham said Mr. Forsyth’s demeanor was also influential.
“Coach Forsyth was always calm and reassuring, no matter what went wrong or dramatic incident,” Graham said. “He didn’t put on a show of jumping around, belittling refs or players, cussing, etc.; he simply was focused on the things he could control, and quite frankly (was) a first-class, high-class individual I’ve been fortunate to know. If I summed up the biggest impact he had on me, it would be how he modeled being a first-class teacher, coach, and person.”
Another one of Mr. Forsyth’s former players, Jim Arends, said Mr. Forsyth was a calm coach who had a “great sense of humor but (was) ‘no nonsense’ when it came to football.” Arends said Mr. Forsyth was a “very ethical, by-the-rules man who led by example and expected his players to be respectful and hard-working.”
“He did not tolerate poor sportsmanship, and there was always a punishment for that,” Arends said. “I respected him greatly because he was always very straightforward and honest about what your role would be, what playing time you could expect, and what the team needed from you. He was definitely a do-your-job kind of coach before it became cliché with the NFL’s New England Patriots.”
Mr. Forsyth was no stranger to making adjustments in the middle of a game, Arends said.
“He was a cerebral football coach who could make adjustments with his teams to change the momentum mid-game,” Arends said.
Jason Ronna, another former player, knew Mr. Forsyth as a coach with a long-term plan.
“He was one of the most patient coaches I have ever known,” Ronna said. “He could think four to five plays ahead on offense.”
Mike Allen, a member of the PHS class of 1987 and current Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School head football coach, called Mr. Forsyth “an amazing offensive mind” in football. Allen added that Mr. Forsyth “made everyone feel like they were just as important as any other player.”
“Coach made football fun,” Allen said, “and you looked forward to going to practice every day.”
Russ Zick, who coached Paxton/PBL High’s boys’ basketball team from 1984 to 1996, said he admired Mr. Forsyth’s “steadfast approach to coaching.”
“He kept the noise out and remained focused on the goal,” Zick said. “He got the most out of the players he coached and cared about each player, regardless of their skill set. He wasn’t much for preaching, but I learned a lot from him by the examples he set. I was a younger coach making mistakes, and he was a voice of reason, whether I listened or not. Clint and (his wife) Kathy were welcoming to everyone, and we have always valued their friendship.”
Mr. Forsyth was also a religious man. According to Steve Nuss, who was an all-state running back as a junior at PHS in 1984, Mr. Forsyth would have his football team say a prayer before each game.
"I can still recite the prayer we said before every game," added former player Mark Coplea. "I was amazed at how calm he always was. He seemed to be in control of every situation. He was a football legend to me as a kid growing up. Then I had him as a coach and teacher, I realized how great of a person he was. He was a great coach but an even better person."
Mr. Forsyth also served as a physical education teacher at PHS, influencing his students in that capacity just as he did his football players.
“He was a fun teacher who had strong morals and a great work ethic,” said Kristin Oyer, who is now a guidance counselor at PBL High School. “This influenced others to strive to do their best and treat others with respect.”
“Coach Forsyth was especially intuitive and compassionate,” added Jennifer Rheeling of the PHS class of 1986, who served as a stringer for the football team. “I was an awkward teenager with no self-confidence, and he took me under his wing. He hated bullies and would give extra attention to less physically skilled students.”
Mr. Forsyth also served as a track coach and junior varsity basketball coach at PHS. He also coached Little League baseball.
“He knew how to motivate the team and you individually to get the best out of you,” said Steve Strickland, who had Mr. Forsyth as his track and junior varsity basketball coach. “He was more of a father figure than a coach. He led by example not only as a coach, but how he lived his life. One thing that has always stood out is his knowledge of what he was coaching. He was a forward thinker.”
Keith Heintzelman, a member of the PHS class of 1986, was on a Little League baseball team Forsyth coached in 1980.
“He started working with me as a first baseman and not only improved my on-field play but was the first coach to develop me as a leader,” Heintzelman said. “He showed me how not only younger players but the older ones, as well, looked up to me not only physically but as a tone setter for our play. He encouraged me to take charge on the field, shifting our defense around as needed, giving instructions to younger players on what to do if the ball was hit to them, correcting and encouraging them when they made a mistake, and congratulating them for plays well made.”
Mr. Forsyth continued coaching and mentoring Heintzelman and his teammates through junior high and high school in basketball and football.
During the Paxton Junior High School boys’ basketball team’s 1981 state run, Heintzelman was in eighth grade.
“While he wasn’t our coach, he was always one of the first people to put a hand on my shoulder and congratulate me for getting a particular rebound or blocked shot and a little tip to play better the next game,” Heintzelman said. “I watched him pull aside his son Brad, Rocky Marron, Phil Hull and others and not only applaud our play but give attitude adjustments and creative criticism, that helped mold not only our performance in the moment but developed our mental and physical toughness and confidence.”
Heintzelman only played one season of Mustang football as a freshman before his father got an assignment in Germany, but that did not stop Mr. Forsyth from pushing Heintzelman.
“Clint set his expectations for our class — and I — very high,” Heintzelman said. “He was very straightforward about the fact that we, and the classes around us, were capable of turning around the athletic fortunes of Paxton High. We all saw him every day in gym class, and he constantly reinforced his expectations of us as not only athletes, but as students. When we succeeded, you could see the pride in his eyes, but when we failed to hold the standard, you could see his disappointment just as easily. His presence and guidance in my life was always appreciated and desired, and Clint was always able, not unlike a good parent, to not only be the teacher, the encourager, but was also the disciplinarian who would snuff out bad attitudes and shred my excuses.
“He pushed me to look at the impact of my choices on those around me. He pressed me to set my goals higher and to not let anything deter me from giving my best effort to achieve them. He also reminded me that in life we fail more often than we succeed, and those failures of today are the foundation of the victories of tomorrow. Clint was the first of many great men — family, coaches, teachers and others — who would demand my best effort, held me accountable, mentored my growth, and ultimately made me and so many others the men we are today. I would never be able to thank Clint enough for the gifts he gave through his time, teaching and trust, but I hope that I made him proud.”
Another former football player, Doug Green, had a father who died when he was 10 years old.
"So it was never easy seeing the other dads cheering their sons on," Green said. "Coach Forsyth knew that it bothered me from time to time and made a point of being there for me when I was upset and wanted to talk. He was so much more than just a coach."
“Coach was a leader we all knew we could count on. We could talk to him and count on him for guidance regarding more than just football,” former football player Dan Bixby added. “As a coach, he was competitive, but yet remembered it was a game.He truly understood the importance of balancing athletics and life. He will be remembered as a wonderful person who will be missed.”