By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
Some coaches give lip service to the core values of being a high school coach and truly only concern themselves with wins. New Rockford Auburn football coach Dan Appino is going to great lengths to give himself an opportunity to have more of an impact than just wins.
In news that shocked the stateline area and sent Internet message boards into overdrive, Appino left his post at the two-time state champion Rockford Boylan Catholic Titans to take the head coaching job at Auburn, a team that hasn’t won in almost four years.
“I wasn’t looking for the opportunity, but it really appealed to me,” Appino said. “It’s a broad challenge for change. I look forward to, and I believe I can, help get the ball moving in the right direction at Auburn and for the district as a whole.”
In talking to Appino, you get the sense that the move was about more than wins and losses. Yes, taking the job is a professional challenge as a coach, but it’s also a personal challenge to help change lives.
Appino grew up in Rockford and very close to the school. He knows there is talent there, but he is looking more forward to guiding young lives and having a positive impact on the kids.
“I am deeply rooted in Rockford, and it’s time for a new challenge,” he said. “I want to help the kids at Auburn who I have always perceived to be physical, tough, hard-working kids who need some good direction.”
Two big hurdles will await Appino as he starts his new post. One will be generating excitement, and the other will be handling expectations.
There are some who think with the hiring alone, Auburn will be able to fight for playoff spots starting next year. But Appino is quick to note he has a five-year plan, and it will take an entire culture change to get the Knights where he wants them to be.
Helping him do that will be his strength coach and defensive coach from Boylan, Josh Feagan. Appino calls him “the best strength coach in the state,” and he says changing the culture will start with a commitment in the weight room.
The other key is getting kids excited about making that commitment and coming out and playing football. While Auburn has had decent numbers on the field the last few years, Appino thinks there could be kids who have thought about playing before that he hopes to convince them that they should play.
“There are kids who are unsure about whether or not they want to play,” he said. “I hope I can help get them off the fence.”
In all, the hiring will ensure the Auburn football team will have more support than it has had in years. And if Appino can get the kids to buy into his program, it could have a lasting effect at the school.
From the March 7-13, 2012, issue