For 60 years, Neal Hofland has been a fixture beneath the Friday night lights of west-central Minnesota's high school football fields.

And on a recent September evening, about 200 of Hofland's former players, student managers, former coaching staff and cheerleaders — not to mention kids, grandkids and even great-grandkids — gathered on the field before a game between his Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta (MACA) Tigers and the Rockford High School Rockets to pay homage to a man who's been coaching prep gridders for longer than most other coaches in the state have been alive.

"He mentioned to me some months ago this was his 60th year coaching, and I just couldn't let that go," said MACA head coach Kevin Pope, who helped plan the pregame festivities honoring Hofland. "It's incredible; I can't imagine doing anything for 60 years."

After Hofland, 80, heard his stats and bio read over the P.A., received a plaque and succumbed to an emotional huddle comprising family and fans, he was back on the sidelines.

After all, he had assistant coaching duties to fulfill and an assortment of linemen to guide through blocking assignments and defensive schemes — football tasks with which he's been involved every fall since 1963.

"It's been a great time," said Hofland. "I've been blessed I've had the health to do what I love for 60 years — and hopefully I'm not done yet."

As a teen, Hofland played basketball and football in tiny Veblen, S.D., and went on to play both sports at Huron College, where he got a degree in education.

He notched his first coaching experience as a high school senior when he led Veblen's elementary basketball team. Over the years, Hofland also has coached baseball, softball and even wrestling for a time.

But he's especially partial to football because of its team interdependence.

"If one player makes a mistake, it affects the whole team, and all 11 players have to sit on a certain spot on the field for one second for the snap," said Hofland.

"It takes a great deal of discipline and preparedness, and so much of that carries over into life," he continued.

"At Chokio-Alberta, my philosophy from the beginning was that we worked hard, we were prepared, we were mindful of representing our community on the field with style and class and, win or lose, we respected our opponents."

A stoic Scandinavian

Among Hofland's four children, son David is uniquely aware of his father's habits, having played on his team as a high schooler, served as his assistant coach for nine years and then taken his turn issuing the orders when Hofland stepped back to an assistant role with David at the helm for a six-year stint.

"He always said that if he was out of control as a coach, that's how his kids would react," his son said. "There are no peaks and valleys with him, and maybe that comes from his stoic Scandinavian background. A lot of things have changed in 60 years, but I don't think he has changed."

Indeed, loyalty, discipline and consistency are emblematic of Hofland's brand.

He devotedly cared for his beloved wife of 59 years, Jeanne, as she battled dementia before her death in late March 2020. And after retiring from his other job (18 years as a high school English/phy ed/health teacher followed by decades in the insurance business), he's continued waking at the same time each day, adhering to an invariable routine.

"I'm very structured," Hofland said, outlining a regimen including 35 minutes of stretching exercises, a shower, a brisk walk (or round of golf, depending on the season), coffee and then "breakfast with the guys" at DeToy's Family Restaurant in downtown Morris.

He does alter his routine when it comes to his order, however. "I like a little variety," he said, mentioning menu choices ranging from French toast to eggs to pancakes; Wednesday's biscuits and gravy special is his favorite.

Hofland, who has never used foul language or verbal abuse as coaching strategies, earned the respect of Pope, 36. He asserts that in his own 10 years as the Tigers' head coach, Hofland hasn't reduced his levels of care, intensity and sharing of knowledge, whether for daily practices or weekly showdowns.

"I love coaching, and I work very hard at it, but the passion coach Hofland brings to it seems almost mythical," said Pope.

David Hofland recalls hearing people refer to his dad as "The Legend" when he was growing up. He took pride in his dad and his conduct, but he and his three sisters have engaged in occasional insider eye-rolling at his intense focus on football.

Hofland's eldest daughter, Beth Mahoney of Worthington, offers an illustration of their father's seasonal single-mindedness.

"Mom's birthday was in October, so every year we bought a card for him to give her," Mahoney said. "One year he signed, 'Love, Neal Hofland,' and Mom said, 'Are you kidding?'"

His football stats speak volumes: 263 wins, 78 losses and two ties as a 36-year head coach, plus an overall record of 406 wins, 171 losses and three ties. Hofland led Chokio-Alberta to six section championships and two state championships (1991 and 1993), was inducted into the Minnesota Coaches Hall of Fame in 2005, named to the National Coaches Hall of Fame and served as president of the Football Coaches Association.

But even though football is life to Hofland, building character and teamwork in young lives always takes precedence over win-loss records. He prizes expressed gratitude from former players, and he freely shares credit for past successes with his coaching staff and student managers.

"And without my family, I'd be nothing," he said.

Leading up to Friday night's game, MACA had won twice and lost twice this season, creating the classic "glass half-full or half-empty" scenario. To Hofland, there's no question but that it's half-full.

"Whatever I do, I try to be positive," he said. "I've been very blessed."