By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
When you have a back-to-back state champion, it may be expected for there to be some uncertainty with the team depending on who has graduated. That uncertainty is not usually because there is a new coach.
It is not often that a team that has not won a game in four years can go out and find themselves a coach who has won the last two state titles.
That is the situation in the NIC-10 this year, as Dan Appino left Rockford Boylan Catholic to go to Rockford Auburn, and sophomore coach John Cacciatore stepped up in Appino’s place at Boylan.
For Cacciatore, he does have the advantage of staying at a place he has been, unlike Appino at Auburn, as well as new coaches at Belvidere North and Rockford Jefferson.
“I can’t imagine having done this from the outside going in,” he said. “Having to learn all the kids and install everything all over again with new kids.”
Such is life in the NIC-10 right now. Machesney Park Harlem with Jim Morrow, Rockton Hononegah with Tim Sughroue and Rockford Guilford with Mel Gilfillan have all had stability at the coaching position.
Every other school has gone through changes. But it appears those changes are for the better.
Just this year, you have four good hires in the conference. Appino at Auburn brings instant credibility and stability to a program that has not had those things.
Patrick Babcock has started at Rockford Jefferson after a standout high school career at Stillman Valley, a great college career at the University of Illinois and a college coaching background. That résumé will speak volumes to a program that was already on the rise.
Rich Turner has coached at the highest level of high school football in the state of Ohio, which is considered one of the top football states in the country. His experience of coaching in front of 10,000 fans on a weekly basis will make for some attention-getting speeches to his new team.
And with Cacciatore at Boylan, you have not only a coach familiar with the program, but one who has had success. Not only has the Boylan varsity team dominated the conference, but the sophomore team has almost always been in lock-step with the upperclassmen.
Add in a Jeremy Warren at Rockford East, who has coached at the college level, Matt Weckler at Belvidere, who almost knocked off the top seed in 5A last year, and Aaron Wichman at Freeport, who led the Pretzels to a surprising upset of Hononegah, and you have young coaching talent all over the conference.
“It’s been that way the last few years with a lot of turnover,” Sughroue said. “I think that the last three years, the conference has just gotten better and better. Some of those schools that have struggled have a solid foundation now.”
In addition to the increase in talent across the conference with players, Gilfillan thinks the coaching changes are helping close the gap in the conference and bringing about some parity.
“I don’t think there is going to be one team that dominates the way Boylan has with 40- and 50-point games,” he said.
The changes also mean each coach has to raise their own game every week. With all of the changing systems, preparation is that much harder for their own teams.
“We don’t have a lot of information or data to go by, film to watch,” Morrow said. “We can only predict what they might want to do. No past tendencies, just what they did week one, and hopefully that gives us an indicator of what we can do.”
From the Aug. 22-28, 2012, issue