Whenever Frank Ragnow played football, his father, Jon, stood at attention.
He stood when he arched passes to Frank from the deck of the Ragnow family home in Victoria. He stood on the bleachers when he cheered on his son at Chanhassen High School. And like his father, Frank has stood tall since Jon died unexpectedly of a heart attack on Oct. 1, 2016.
The former Arkansas center enters the 2018 NFL draft as a potential first-round prospect. The moment will be bittersweet knowing it would’ve figuratively knocked Jon, the Ragnow’s statuesque leader with a booming voice, off his feet.
“He stood up, he never sat down,” Marty Ragnow recalled.
Jon will be there in spirit when Marty and her five children — Sarah, Frank, Katie, Maddie and Jack — watch the draft Thursday or Friday if necessary. They’ll be in the same living room where Jon watched Frank’s games at Arkansas, sometimes for the second time on broadcast recordings. It’s where Jon awaited Google Alerts on his phone referencing any article that mentioned Frank’s name. It’s where Jon wanted silence in case announcers said anything about Frank.
It’s where about 50 family and friends, including all of Jon’s eight best friends and pallbearers (at Frank’s request), will again await Frank’s name to be called on TV.
“It wasn’t just Frank’s plan,” Marty Ragnow said. “It was Jon and Frank’s plan.”
Whichever NFL team drafts Frank this week gets more than a 6-5, 309-pound offensive lineman. A far-reaching and loyal support system is set to follow Frank wherever he goes. That still includes a father’s lessons. Jon taught Frank how to hunt, fish and treat everybody with respect. He often said “Don’t be a schmo,” by, for instance, leaving the cap off the milk jug or not making the bed.
It’s a father’s short saying for a life’s worth of advice Frank still keeps at the ready. It’s what Frank thought when he prepared to meet this spring with top NFL decisionmakers from John Lynch of the 49ers to Pete Carroll of the Seahawks.
“He always told me that, ‘Don’t be a schmo,’ ” Frank said. “Make these guys think you’re a good guy. I think he’s really proud of me. I’m just trying to continue the plan every day. That’s the thing we always did. We lived it one day at a time and we faced our goals together. I’m just trying to keep that process going and do what he would want me to do.”
Marty has continued to be the family’s rock since Jon’s passing. While planning an NFL draft watch party this month, the “wonder woman,” Frank says, has been busy car shopping with one daughter while preparing twins Maddie and Jack for high school graduation and college plans.
If he is drafted by the Vikings, Ragnow has said he’ll likely go back to living at home with his mom in Victoria.
Frank’s long-term goals were deciphered when he made the tough call to leave Minnesota for the University of Arkansas. The NFL vision became real when Frank and Jon toured the country together on college visits. They drove from Victoria to Chicago (Northwestern) and East Lansing (Michigan State). Then came the SEC tour through Arkansas and Alabama, which included a meeting with Nick Saban that left both Ragnows starstruck.
No matter how much Frank listened, however, the gloves were going to stay on his hands.
Jon had teased Frank about being a “softie” for wearing gloves while playing. In the middle of his junior season at Arkansas, Frank removed them to honor his dad.
“Now I don’t wear gloves,” Frank said, “to make him proud.”
Like his father, Frank is an outdoorsmen. He leads a YouTube channel and Instagram feed (@GrizzlyManOutdoors) that he and his brother, Jack, one day hope to turn into an adventurous TV show following an NFL career. The plan included the three men of the family — Jon, Frank and Jack — showing off their expeditions from pheasant hunting in southern Minnesota to fishing in Canada.
The two brothers carried on the vision. Jack, a senior at Chanhassen High School this year, sold branded wristbands around the school this fall, according to their former high school coach, Nick Tofteland.
“That has largely grown and taken off since Jon’s passing,” Tofteland said. “Started beforehand, but the intentionality of it, branding behind it took off since.”
A successful NFL career was always the top goal, Frank said, before bringing his family into the fold with an outdoors TV show. Frank is well aware how his potential NFL success can affect his family and community back home. He’s wanted to bring them along for the ride.
“There was a definite measure of appreciation for how success of one member of the family can alter the trajectory of the family itself,” Tofteland said.
Frank remains on the trajectory Jon helped set.
“With every good thing you wonder, ‘What if?’ ” Frank said. “What if he had been here? What if we had been able to do this together? Just keep making him proud, always keeping him in the back of my mind.”