Kelly Scholten earned all-conference honors as an offensive lineman for the Augustana Vikings back in 1995. Now, with two of his sons on the team, Scholten plays the role of father and coach to this year’s football lineup.
In his ninth season as a coach, Scholten is in charge of special teams and the defensive line, positions that neither of his sons, freshman wide receiver Sam Scholten and junior quarterback Thomas Scholten, play.
“I don’t have a lot of direct contact coaching them, which I think makes it easier for all of us,” Kelly said. “I try to be here for them in more of a supportive role. We talk about football things occasionally, but I try to stay out of it for the most part. Playing college football needs to be their experience.”
Sam and Thomas only played on the same football team once before at Brandon Valley High School when Thomas was a senior and Sam was a sophomore. Kelly’s coaching experience with them only includes one summer of Little League baseball, so this is a different experience for all three.
“Obviously, the game is a little different having your dad as a coach, but at the same time, he coaches on the defensive side of the ball, and my brother and I both play offense,” Thomas said. “In practice, I’m sure it’s hard for my dad to find a happy medium for coaching the defense and cheering us on when we are in the game. Off of the field, it is always fun when we get together as a family and get a chance to talk about practice or just football in general.”
Kelly said that one of his favorite memories of the two is when Sam caught a pass from Thomas on Thomas’ senior day in high school. He said he hopes that their time at Augustana gives them more opportunities for this connection.
This season helped that. Thomas started his first two games and came in to beat Bemidji State after senior quarterback Casey Bauman went down with an injury. Thomas went on to help lead the team to three wins in those games under center.
“It can be stressful as a parent when your son is a quarterback,” Kelly said. “Everyone sees the quarterback every play, and everything on offense runs through the quarterback. As a parent, you just want your kids to enjoy their experience. You want to see them be successful because it is hard to see them hurting.”
Kelly said he usually uses the crowd’s reactions to know whether Thomas and the offense have done something good.
“When Thomas is on the field on Saturdays, it is very hard on me because my back is always turned to the field, talking with the defense,” Kelly said. “It is hard for me to do my job because I enjoy watching him play.”
One moment he did get to watch live was Thomas’ first collegiate touchdown pass in the game against Bemidji State. A 26-yard pass from Thomas to wide receiver Jack Fisher gave the Vikings a 16-3 lead, but it also gave the Scholten family a moment to remember.
“We certainly wanted to get [Bemidji State], but at that moment, I was so happy for him,” Kelly said. “He has put in a lot of hours over the years, so to see him get into a meaningful game and have success was special. We embraced as he came off the field, and I just told him how proud I was of him.”
For Kelly, these moments may be stressful, but for Sam it’s still the same game. He said it’s not hard to differentiate between having a father and a coach.
“When we are talking about football, I often come to him for tips, pointers, and support,” Sam said. “It does not make much of an impact on me. At the end of the day, it is just football. I have been playing football my whole life, and I am here for a reason. I am just doing my part to help the team win.”
Even though both Sam and Thomas are able to keep their focus on football, they understand that they are doing something not a lot of people can say they’ve done.
“This is a pretty special experience that I know doesn’t happen to a lot of families,” Thomas said. “It is also a pretty rewarding experience for our whole entire family to see us play the game that we love.”
The Scholtens are just one example of an Augustana legacy family. Now, Kelly will create many more memories in the next few years.
“Augustana runs deep in our family, We bleed Augustana blue and gold,” Scholten said. “I played football here. My wife graduated from here. My wife’s father (Jim Heinitz) was a long-time football coach. My oldest son Zach graduated from Augustana last spring and played basketball here. It is pretty special to have Sam and Thomas here as well. I get to see them every day and am close by if they need something. Not many parents can say that when they send their kids to college.”