Carter Bergen made quite the impression when he sat down for his first day as the special teams coordinator of the Woodbury football team in the late 1990s.
Longtime Woodbury head coach Gary Halvorson decided one season the team needed a dedicated coach to work with special teams. Multiple coaches were assigned to oversee each special teams unit in the past.
Halvorson chose Bergen, Woodbury's volunteer kicking coach, to be the new special teams coordinator after seeing his commitment to the team's players.
Bergen did not take his new duties lightly when he showed up for a preseason team meeting with his playbook in hand.
If anything, he was too prepared.
“He came in with his playbook, and it was thicker than Burt Roberts’ offensive playbook,” Halvorson said. “So it was rather humorous. I just said, ‘Carter, that’s great. But we can’t spend that much time practicing just the kicking game unless we’re going to practice eight hours a day.’”
He thinned the playbook down, and for the next two decades he stuck with the Woodbury football program as a volunteer coach who focused on the kicking game. On March 5, Bergen died after a long battle with prostate cancer. His funeral was scheduled for noon on Saturday at Saint Ambrose of Woodbury Catholic Church.
Known for his dedication to his players, the volunteer coach and local attorney did his best not to let the fight with cancer affect his commitment to others. In his last days before dying of cancer, Bergen spent time working to make sure the clients of his Lake Elmo-based workers’ compensation law practice would have access to the information they needed for cases.
John Griffin, a former Woodbury football coach and a best friend of Bergen, visited him on a daily basis before he died and could not believe what he was seeing.
“This has been a four-and-a-half year odyssey,” Griffin said. “And he has battled, and he has fought stronger than anybody I have ever known. To watch him in his last days, he just kept going and going and going and going. It was just amazing.”
In the last few years of his cancer battle, Bergen was known for giving an optimistic outlook when friends and family asked about is health. Longtime friend John Norris, who helped introduce Bergen to the Woodbury football program, said they spoke in the final weeks about his answers to health questions. Bergen's positivity is something Norris said stands out about his friend.
“He didn’t want anybody concentrating on anything that would be considered negative,” Norris said. “He wouldn’t go there. He wouldn’t allow it. I know he lied to me.”
Until recently, Bergen kept working with his kickers through offseason workouts. His commitment to the program is something the coaches hope will inspire the players.
Woodbury sophomore Dylan Olson has appreciated Bergen's guidance while developing as a kicker. Bergen convinced him to start kicking while tagging along with his older brother Grant Olson at summer practices.
“He is extremely hard working,” Olson said about Bergen. “He goes to his office; he does his work. Gets all of it done and then helps us. He’s very hard working, a very nice guy.”
Of course, Bergen developed many players into varsity kickers during his decades of volunteer coaching at Woodbury. But his players credit him for more than just on-field guidance.
Grant Olson is now a student at Iowa State University after kicking for Woodbury during the 2013 through 2015 seasons. He expected to learn about football during those three years working with Bergen. But Olson did not expect to grow as a person.
“He ended up teaching me a lot more about just life,” Olson said. “Just growing up and being an adult.”
Woodbury head coach Andy Hill said Bergen often scheduled his cancer treatments at the Mayo Clinic early in the day so he could get back to football practice in time to work with his players. At the same time, many of his players did not fully understand the challenge he faced while battling cancer.
“I knew he was undergoing treatment, but he never really showed how tough it was,” Olson said. “And how much it really got to him. That wasn’t really what he was like. He was a kind of guy who wouldn’t show his weakness, and he would always be tough around us.”