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Sports Editor

Sports editor for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

You learn to expect certain things on the opening day of football practice ... a lineman lagging behind during sprints, a player icing an injury an hour into the season, a teammate doubled over and parting ways with breakfast.

At University High School, among the constants has been Mike Troll, a friendly face to we media types and a stern but respected voice to the guys in helmets and shorts.

Troll won't be there when it all starts up again Aug. 12. After 34 years, including 17 at U High, he has retired.

A wrestling coach each of those 34 years, Troll also coached football for all but one season ... his first at U High. He's coached on every level under multiple head coaches and, for six years at Olympia and two at U High, was the head man himself.

Versatile and unselfish coaches such as Troll are the backbone of high school sports. They give of their time and effort for minimal monetary return. They fill roles and build character through action and word, setting examples and standards that carry on well after the equipment has been turned in.

The official start to the season was still nine days away Saturday and already U High head coach John Johnson said of Troll, "We miss him."

Also a highly respected science teacher, Troll walked away from it all when the school year wrapped up in May. 

He took with him fond memories, a legacy of service and, presumably, his array of U High hats and sweatshirts. Troll always wore one of each on opening day and beyond, regardless the temperature.

Players, fellow coaches and wheezing reporters might be sweltering in the August heat, but Troll had on a sweatshirt. Maybe it was the wrestling coach  in him, an homage to those who sought to make weight.

No matter, Troll's exit leaves a void ... for him and the Pioneers.

He has kept in touch with the coaches this summer and admits to missing the regular interaction with them. He has received phone calls and texts from players and says not being their coach is difficult.

He fully expects "that first Friday night" — the Aug. 30 season opener — will be "tough on me."

On the flip side, there is more time for his family, his hunting property, the cabin he is building on it and the sawmill he has created to assist with that project and others.

"Part of the reason for retiring was just the amount of time I was spending between football and wrestling,"  Troll said. "With the (three) grandkids and all, I was starting to miss things. I just didn't want to do that. Plus, I've been doing it for 34 years."

So it's on to a life without football, at least in terms of practice plans, weight room duty and a whistle around the neck.

Saturday, Troll was at his hunting property in rural Colchester, south of Macomb, working on his cabin with the help of his brother in-law. The sawmill was in use, producing "the lumber I need to trim out the inside of the building," Troll said.

It also serves another of Troll's passions unrelated to blocking and tackling.

"I started building furniture," he said. "A lot of the oak and things I've been making stuff with, I've been milling myself. It's kind of a hobby more than anything."

Hobbies have a place in retirement. Word is they can be invaluable.

Still, this "no football" thing will be a challenge. It will confront Troll on Aug. 12 and, again, on "that first Friday night."

He has options in that regard.

His son, Adam, is an assistant coach at Coal City. He may go watch the Coalers play Morris. U High opens against Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin. He may take in that one.

His friend and former U High coaching colleague, Eric Lyons, will be starting his second year as head coach at Olympia. He may travel to that game.

"I have no idea where I'll go," Troll said.

It's OK. For the first time in 35 years, the game plan can wait.

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Contact Randy Kindred at (309) 820-3402. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_kindred

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