BELTON, Texas- 24 years ago, Pete Fredenburg took a job at a small D-III program that had not yet played its first game. And now, sitting in his office in the present day, having retired on Jan. 8 as UMHB’s head coach, it is hard to put into words what he accomplished in just over two decades.
The win total speaks for itself, as do the Stagg Bowl victories, deep playoff runs, and 173 All-Americans who wore the purple and gold. But that is not why Fredenburg’s legacy is as recognized and remembered. The winning is a key part of it, yes, but not the sole reason, as numerous players have attested to.
“As far as coaching goes, especially at the college level, what he did is so rare,” Jordan Mullinix, who played for the Cru from 2009-2013, recently said. “Aside from all the wins, he started the program and finished there. Especially in today’s age, where there’s somewhat of a transfer portal and coaches go to a stepping stone, stay for a few years, then take the next big thing.
“I got there in 2009, and the program had been going for a little over 10 years at that point. But you had the same leadership, the same head coach, the same face of the program. For someone who is 19-22 years old, having that consistency in your life is a big deal.”
When the name Pete Fredenburg is mentioned to just about any Cru football alum, before the talk of big-time wins, and championship seasons, leadership is brought to the forefront. He had everyone on the same page, and that was something that did not go unnoticed by those on the field.
“For me personally, Coach Fred really showed me what great leadership is,” Gary Ruckman, UMHB’s starting tight end on the 2021 national title team said. “After my injury, I thought my time playing football was over, but coach Fred pulled me back and gave me the confidence to get back on the field. He exhibited this type of leadership everyday in meetings, practice, and games. Coach Fred had a way of pulling guys together and getting them to give great effort for the team.”
The mentality of servant leadership was something that Fredenburg instilled from the moment he arrived in Belton. In order to produce a good product on the field, the longtime defensive coordinator knew it took a group of selfless players coming together with one common goal.
“Pete Fredenburg was more than just a great coach, he was an INCREDIBLE Leader,” Darrin Beheler, a defensive end on the inaugural team, said early in the week. “Pete had the VISION to start this program and include ALL comers, that’s what you expect from a good Leader.. The knowledge to know how to build something elite from the ground up. Allowing any and all players(including myself who hadn’t played in 6 years)to come tryout and be a part of something special.”
Special it was. The Crusaders captured 19 ASC titles and three national titles with Fredenburg leading the program. And it was his desire to allow everyone who was willing to work for the betterment of the team a part in that success.
“I’ll never forget, I had two shoulder surgeries in back-to-back years,” Mullinix said. “I got there in 2009, was redshirted because of one surgery. I came back in 2010, and blew out my other shoulder. So I didn’t play a down until 2011. Which is tough. I wasn’t even sure if I should keep playing. But I had Coach Fred and Coach Harmon, before I even played a down, ask me if I would be willing to move to safety [from running back], because they thought it would help the team and was my best chance to get on the field sooner.
“And it wasn’t like I showed up to practice one day, and they said, ‘By the way, we moved you to safety.’ They made a point to come and talk to me and ask me if I’d be willing to do that. I said, ‘Absolutely.’”
Throughout the years, countless players shared in Mullinix’s same situation, originally recruited at one position, but given the opportunity to play another. Fredenburg has a knack for identifying talent, and making the best use of each member of the team as the Cru enjoyed success on the field.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons why anybody on the team was willing to do whatever was asked was because, as former tailback Ike Shaw put it, Fredenburg was willing to do anything for them.
“When I go through a rough place, I can always call Coach Fred, or even just close my eyes and remember all the things he taught us about leadership,” Ike Shaw said. “I was on the unity council my last three years, and I wanted to do those things for the program, because I know if he looked at me, and said, ‘I need you to do this right now,’ I would do it. Because you know he would not let you down.”
Shaw said that though he was hesitant to come to Belton initially in 2000, he has never regretted taking that opportunity, which he described as “life-changing.”
“I did not want to come to UMHB,” Shaw, the founder of Total Titan Training in Temple, said. “I thought I was going to D-I. But it was the best decision to come here. The reason I didn’t want to come was the two years before, they had gone 3-7 and 4-6. We only lost four games while I was here. I can say I was a part of the legendary beginning of Coach Fredenburg.
“He is probably the most influential person in my life, period. He cares about his players off the field. I had left school early to graduate because my mom was sick, and he supported me through the process of that. I broke my neck in a car wreck and he was calling me and asking how I was doing. It’s like a father-son type of relationship and he really desires to have that with his players.”
The program he built makes playing for UMHB more than just a college experience, as several alumni have said, and creates an unselfish attitude within the locker, a desire to be part of something bigger than one individual.
“I remember having the thought, as a sophomore or junior, when I hadn’t played a whole lot,” Mullinix recalls. “I thought, ‘I don’t care if I never touch the field, as long as we win and make it to the next round of the playoffs.’ I could have gone to another program and probably played a lot more, but I wouldn’t have been able to be a part of such a great program or played for a hall of fame coach.”
Fredenburg’s lasting legacy within the program is one that will remain forever, for his commitment to the Cru, and the way in which he molded many young football players into men of high character.
“Most importantly, more than just his 231 Wins, dominating the ASC for 2 decades, and 3 National Titles. I say more than all of this, Pete Fredenburg shaped, molded and embraced forging the futures of hundreds of young men,” Beheler noted. “NFL All Pro Players, elite high school football coaches, Special Operations soldiers, extremely successful businessmen and business owners, incredible fathers and an Alumni Brotherhood.”
Baylor Mullins, a defensive back for the Cru from 2013-2016, shared a similar sentiment that speaks for all who played under Fredenburg: “One thing that comes to mind when I think of coach Fred is what a tremendous leader he was. What he has done at UMHB is unbelievable, his leadership, respect and love that he has for his players will never be forgotten.
“I will never be able to thank coach Fred enough for what he has done for me and my family. A true legend that has changed the lives of so many and to see him go out on top is truly amazing.”