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Todd Hendricks (right) speaks with a player last season in his job as the offensive coordinator of the AFC Rangers. This year, Hendricks is working as a head coach of the Viterbo Pitbulls in Italy. (Contributed)

Coaching half a world away

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sports Alexandria, 56308
Alexandria Minnesota 225 7th Ave E
P.O. Box 549
56308

Some people will travel the globe for an opportunity to do something they love.

Osakis resident Todd Hendricks is the perfect example of this. Last Thursday, he left his home in central Minnesota and hopped on a plane to Italy, where he will be the head coach of the Viterbo Pitbulls football team for the 2014 season. This coaching position is just another chapter in his long career of football experience overseas.

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Hendricks first began playing football in Europe after graduating from college and wanting to continue at the professional level.

After his days as a three-sport athlete at Jefferson High School in Alexandria, Hendricks played two years of football at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls before playing two years at University of Mary in North Dakota.

After graduating, Hendricks unsuccessfully tried to catch on in the NFL. But his agent was contacted by the AFC Rangers in Vienna, Austria to play in the Austrian Football League.

He decided to play that season and signed with the AFC Rangers in January of 1993.

"I decided to take it," Hendricks said. "It sounded like a pretty good deal, and that's how it kind of all started with going to Europe."

When he first arrived in Vienna, he was unsure if he had landed in the right city. The sign in the airport read "Wien," which is German for Vienna.

"At first I didn't know if I was in the right place," Hendricks said. "But then it was fine and everything went well."

Language has not been much of a barrier for Hendricks over the years. Most people in Europe know how to speak English, including 95 percent of the players.

"Most of the people you work with speak English, and they want to speak English to you," Hendricks said.

Over 10 seasons as a player in Europe, Hendricks scored 78 touchdowns and played multiple positions, including receiver, running back and quarterback. His best season playing for the AFC Rangers was in 1995 when he scored a league-high 20 touchdowns and had 75 receptions for 1,049 yards. He was named the MVP of the league that season.

While playing football in Europe, Hendricks did not notice much difference from the style of play in America. The rosters are mostly comprised of Europeans as there is a limited number of American imports in most leagues.

"There's really not any difference in the rules," Hendricks said. "The rules are all the same, NFL and college rules. The only difference is there's mostly Europeans playing there."

Most of the coaches in Europe are Americans, so they bring over many of the same systems. Hendricks said the game resembles more the college style of play.

"It's a lot of the same stuff, they run the pistol, they run all of the same type of stuff we are doing here at the same time," Hendricks said. "A lot of the coaches are Americans, too. They bring over all the stuff."

Toward the end of his playing career in Europe, Hendricks began working toward a future on the sidelines as a coach. In 2009 he worked as a player and coach for the Bern Grizzlies and Thun Tigers in Switzerland.

In 2013 he returned to the team he first played for in Europe, the AFC Rangers, as the offensive coordinator. Hendricks also had plenty of coaching experience in America as the head coach at Wabasso High School and the Alexandria Mustangs semi-pro team. He also worked in other coaching positions at Osakis High School, Ridgewater College and Augsburg College.

Hendricks had other opportunities to be a head coach in Europe, but the Viterbo Pitbulls position offered him the flexibility to set up the offensive and defensive systems he wanted. This head coaching position also offered a 10-month contract while others were only five months.

"This one looked like it was more of a building type of thing," Hendricks said. "I can build this team, and build it up how I kind of want to do it."

Leaving the area every year for jobs in Europe does have drawbacks. Hendricks has three school-aged children, Alex, Kendra and Mason, that he leaves behind when he travels to his jobs. His son Alex plays quarterback and linebacker at Litchfield High School.

"It was always tough to leave," Hendricks said. "I have three kids; it's hard to leave them. But I keep in touch by Skype, the Internet and things like that."

Hendricks is excited to begin coaching, and he will have a lot of time to prepare. He began his work as head coach in September, but the team does not begin games until February. He has prepared the offensive and defensive schemes they will run, but he is still looking for a defensive coordinator. He will also soon figure out what positions the team will try to fill with American import players. One of the most popular positions for import players is quarterback.

"I'm really fired up, I'm ready to go," Hendricks said. "As soon as I get there I'll see what we have to work with. I've been watching a little video on the team, and I'm excited to see how it will be."

But coaching isn't the only thing he is looking forward to in Italy. The good traditional food is another perk of working in the new location.

"I'm looking forward to eating the good food over there," Hendricks said. "Italy has got great food. The wine's not too bad, either."

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