I was extremely fortunate to have great coaching from little league through high school. My dad, Terry, is highly responsible for that. Terry coached me in T-Ball, Little League, Pee Wee football, and high school football and baseball. While this might set the stage for a “psycho dad” situation, he is an IHSA Hall of Fame football coach and was an Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year. So, yeah, he knows what he’s doing.
When I got to Downers Grove South, a school of 3,200 students, I was elated to be part of the football program. Head Coach John Belskis had a string of 12 straight conference championships and 6A playoff appearances. His program was built on discipline, dedication, and mental toughness. It was run like the military: no long hair, no earrings, 6:30am summer camp. “Yes” and “Yes, sir” were the only acceptable answers — “Yeah” meant extra punishment running after practice. It was preached that by focusing on little details, our discipline would be our weapon. And, DGS could “out discipline” everyone else.
This all sounds great, but how were they able to get the kids to buy in? With five IHSA Hall of Fame coaches — John Belskis, Terry Kent, Jack McInerney, Terry McCombs, Tim Mash — we had one of the smartest staffs in the state. We were always prepared. Our practice week was structured around what our opponent might do to us on Friday night. Review the scouting report, practice, watch film, correct mistakes, repeat. The players, while not knowing it at the time, were exposed to high level coaching, scouting, and teaching. Our routine reinforced our discipline.
DGS is where I learned the importance of being first. First in line for drills. First one to practice. First one in the weight room. First to study film. First to be accountable. First to lead. First to take advantage of an opportunity. This matured into first to step up and perform at a pro tryout camp. First to offer to catch a bullpen. First to congratulate a pitcher on his nasty curveball. Being first demonstrates leadership; being last demonstrates laziness.
I also learned the importance of time management and sacrifice. The summer of 1995, my first full summer of DGS varsity football and baseball, was pretty loaded. I had football camp from 6:30am-10am; Driver’s Ed from 11am-2pm; summer league baseball doubleheaders from 3pm-6pm; and football 7-on-7 from 7pm-9pm. Get home, go to sleep. Wake up the next day, repeat. I felt like Bo Jackson — and loved it!
DGS sports were a huge commitment, but they kept me out of trouble and taught me about what the expectations were to be great. Many of my friends loved sports but didn’t like the commitment, so they quit and spent their time doing other things that kids do. Not me. My priorities were always football and baseball. I was willing to sacrifice my social life and my summer vacation, attempting to be the best player I could be.
Now, 20 years later, I am grateful to have had the experience. The same discipline I learned at DGS helped me at the University of Iowa, University of Nebraska, and with the Chicago White Sox. The higher the playing level, the more physical abilities even out. Everyone is big, strong, and fast. My mentality separated me. My work ethic, drive, and willingness to make sacrifices kept me around. (Being a coaches kid probably helped too.) I am proud to be a product of such great coaching, and I owe the foundation of my makeup to my DGS experiences. Thanks to all my high school coaches that helped me on my journey!