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Heupel’s Mother Doesn’t Mind Trips

November 30, 2000 GMT

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ When he decided he would go to Oklahoma to play football, Josh Heupel made a request of his mother.

``He said, `Mom, I want you at every game. I need you at every game,′ ″ Cindy Heupel said. ``I told him, `Josh, I’ll be there.′ ″

And so she has been. She hasn’t missed any of her son’s games, home or away, in the past two years. Never mind that it’s roughly 800 miles from the family home in Aberdeen, S.D., to Norman.

``It’s about 12 1/2 hours, with three bathroom breaks and filling the car with gas for a total of seven minutes,″ she said.

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Cindy Heupel considers every visit with her son a gift.

One morning in the summer of 1988, she woke up with a headache. Four hours later, she was being flown to a hospital in Minnesota for treatment of a stroke. She underwent 7 1/2 hours of brain surgery that resulted in her having to learn to walk and talk all over again.

It wasn’t until much later that she learned the doctors had given her only about a 10 percent chance of surviving.

After such an experience, she says, what’s 12 hours in a car?

``I asked God for a little more time with my children, and he’s given me that. I don’t take it for granted,″ she said by telephone from her office at Aberdeen Central High School, where she is principal.

``God granted me another few years on this earth, and I’m going to make the most of it.″

Last year, she made the trips with her daughter, Andrea, and with other relatives. Her husband Ken, football coach at Northern State University in Aberdeen, stayed home and coached his team.

This year, he made it to five regular-season games, which sometimes required that he turn his team over to his assistant coaches. That’s virtually unheard of at the college level, but was something he felt he had to do.

``Other years, he always had football left. This was his senior year,″ the elder Heupel said from his office at Northern State. ``I really felt as a father that I needed to show him, to let him know that he’s very important in my life.

``I felt that I needed to do this. It really had nothing to do with where he was playing. If he had been playing Division III ball, if he had been playing anywhere, I would have done the same thing.″

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said he admires Ken Heupel’s decision to miss some of his team’s games so he can watch his son.

``I respect the heck out of it, because in the end that’s what truly matters, taking care of your family,″ he said. ``Josh isn’t going to play college again, so I’m sure 10 years from now he (Ken) will be glad he did.″

Usually, the Heupels get in their car on Friday night and drive straight through, arriving on Saturday morning. They drive in two-hour shifts. Often there are relatives or friends who caravan along in other vehicles.

This year, the trips to Norman have allowed the Heupels to visit with Andrea, who is a freshman at Oklahoma.

Stoops can relate to the Heupels’ travels. When he played football at Iowa, his parents would drive 10 hours through the night from Youngstown, Ohio, to watch games, then return home on Sunday.

``I know as part of our family, when they did all that traveling, you have a lot of good family time together when you do travel 10 hours together and you do it consistently,″ Stoops said. ``Then all of a sudden this uncle or aunt or cousin wants to come and it brings you all together for a good amount of time.

``I know with our family, we remember all those times or going to bowl games, and they’re great memories.″

The Heupels say Stoops is right on the mark. ``It gives you some real quality time,″ Cindy Heupel said.

No. 1 Oklahoma only has two games remaining this season. The Sooners play Kansas State on Saturday night in Kansas City in the Big 12 title game, then will play in a bowl game.

As always, Josh Heupel’s parents will be there to watch.

``When he comes out of the locker room or gets done with the press, I always get a kiss and a hug, and I’m always the first one he meets,″ Cindy Heupel said. ``I would drive to the end of the earth for that.″