Dominic Passolano has a good start on turning around a moribund high school program. He is pleased with the improvement shown at Palos Heights Shepard in just one season.
"Last year was my first year as a head coach. They had struggled for a long time here. They had only been 1-8 in the previous year and hadn't been to the playoffs in the last 14 years. The place was intriguing because of the makeup of the school, the diversity of the school. We came in and the kids bought in right away. The seniors really stepped up and worked hard.
"We had a successful year. We were 7-3, and the sophomores were 8-0-1. They saw that hard work will pay off. They also saw how hard their first round playoff opponent Geneva worked, how big they were and how physically ready they were for that game. That's real helpful for this offseason because the kids have bought in again."
Passolano has a great athlete leading his team, with more in the pipeline.
"I'm excited about the upcoming season because some of the kids like Dontae McCoy and those sophomores that are coming up to the varsity as juniors next year will be able to fill in nicely. I'm cautiously optimistic. We've put ourselves in a pretty good position if we'll work hard again this summer."
McCoy is a versatile player with ability to play several positions. But Passolano needed someone to lead his offense.
"They had him at running back as a sophomore. I knew we were never gonna get a pro-style quarterback, and I wanted to run some sort of option. He's very good at handling the football, so we moved him to quarterback. He's just a tremendous athlete, and he also gets a 3.2 GPA. So he was able to learn on the run and adapt to that position."
College recruiters will have to project McCoy to other positions at the college level since he is probably not a college quarterback.
"Looking at the recruiting aspect, colleges are unsure what position he's gonna play. But I look at him at the next level as a running back or wide receiver on offense, or somewhere in the defensive secondary or maybe even something like an outside WILL linebacker on defense.
"He's every bit of 6'-0" and maybe a little bit more. Right now he weighs 185 pounds. He's run track since he got here. We've pushed that for our perimeter kids, and he's pushed that even more. I know he was clocked at some of the one-day camps we went to last year at 4.56. He's got some decent speed.
"Besides quarterback last year, he also played strong safety and free safety for us. As the season went along, because he played quarterback we decided to have him focus on just one side of the ball. Quarterback is the most important position in your program. This year he'll play more of a role on defense, somewhere in the secondary."
Colleges are only beginning to study McCoy.
"Northwestern's been interested in him. They've been in and talked about him with me a few times. And a handful of MAC schools. He's gotten steady mail, the basic early mail in the spring, from Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Arizona, and Kansas.
"It's just the start of the whole process. Once the summer comes around, we're gonna hit a bunch of one-day camps. Get him out there."
While McCoy may be his only major college prospect at this time, Passolano wants to talk up a couple other of his top players.
"We have a running back named Randall Taylor who saw significant time last year. Just another overall good kid. He's a lower level NAIA, Division II kid. Another kid is Robert Cole, a wide receiver for us. Both those kids are on the track team, are very athletic and have good explosiveness. Cole started at free safety and wide receiver for us.
"The other individual is Tracal Davis, who is a running back and linebacker for us. He's really been working on his speed, and I'm looking forward to seeing how he takes off this year.
"Among the sophomores, the kid we're really excited about is John Kotas. We could have brought him up, and he would have started as a sophomore. But it was a case where we had some seniors there who had worked hard, and you're gonna be loyal to them. So we kept him down with the sophomores.
"He could have started at linebacker and fullback for us. He's working hard, and he's gonna be a very good player for us the next two years. He's about 5'-11", 185-190 pounds."