Mattio recalls memories of 36-year coaching career

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Mattio recalls memories of 36-year coaching career

Dave Mattio and Jerry Colangelo both grew up in the Italian neighborhood known as Hungry Hill in Chicago Heights. Colangelo and most of his friends went on to be standouts in football, basketball, baseball and track and field at Bloom Township. To this day, Mattio can't understand why he ended up at Marian Catholic.

"I have no idea why I came here," Mattio said. "Colangelo grew up on 22nd and Union. I grew up on 25th and Butler. My mom and dad said a new school had opened up. We went to an open house and I was here."

Mattio never left. Because his grammar school didn't offer football, he was talked into playing football as a freshman. As a junior and senior, he was a two-way lineman under coach Tom Mitchell, who went on to a storied career at Brother Rice.

A 1966 graduate, he earned a football scholarship to Northern Illinois but blew out his knee in the last practice as a freshman. He graduated in 1971, obtained a masters degree in physical education and returned to Marian Catholic as a physical education, health and history teacher and coach in three sports.

When Don Berg left in 1975, Mattio became athletic director. The following year, when Don Voss left for Lockport, he became head football coach. He will continue to serve his alma mater as athletic director but, after 36 years, he has decided to retire from coaching.

"It's time," he said. "I've been thinking about it for a couple of years. I've always believed you are either part of the solution or part of the problem or you are the problem. A lot of things have changed here. Numbers are down, private school enrollment is declining and we're not getting the volume of kids we used to get."

Mattio will be 65 at the start of the 2013 football season. He has 14 grandchildren. He saw two of them play football last week. One is a cheerleader. Another plays hockey. He said he just realized he has been married for 40 years. His wife Jody is a candidate for sainthood.

"It took a long time to build this program up to where we were competitive state-wide," he said. "But in the last nine years things have gone in the opposite direction on my watch.

"When you have a program and a school and kids at heart, you reach a point where it is time to cut your ties and support someone else to come in with a fresh outlook and energy and new ideas. It is frustrating when it is an obsession and whatever magic you had doesn't work any longer."

In 36 years, Mattio's teams posted a 251-141 record. He produced 22 winning teams in a row and guided 20 teams to the state playoff. His 1993 team, led by Terence Marable, Jerry Verde, Mark Clifford, Brian Kochanski and Brian VanderLuigaren, went 14-0 and defeated Geneseo 13-6 for the Class 4A championship. His 1999 team finished second.

He sent four players to the NFL--Dennis Kelly, John Holecek, Rodney Harrison and Mike Prior. He still describes Harrison as "the best football player I coached," Holecek as "the most unsung player I coached" and Prior as "the best all-around athlete I coached."

Mattio also produced several other outstanding players who had the capability of succeeding at the college level but, due to various reasons, didn't achieve their potential. Most noteworthy were Marable and Roderick Middleton, a free safety on the 1999 state runner-up.
 
Marable, an All-Stater, went to Illinois and played several positions on offense, defense and special teams. Unfortunately, he was an I-back at a time when one-back schemes were becoming popular. He never found a niche. Mattio insists Middleton "would have been a great NFL free safety" but he suffered a back injury. His first love was basketball, which he played in college and overseas.

But in the last nine years, Marian Catholic was 37-50, including 1-8 in his last season in which Mattio went through four quarterbacks, a number of running backs, was forced to play many kids both ways and usually wore down in the second half.

"It was disappointing from the standpoint that the kids worked harder than a 1-8 team," Mattio said. "I'm proud of how they played. I can't put a finger on the won-lost issue. The important part is our kids played hard through it all and performed in the last nine years. We worked harder as a staff as ever before but the results weren't as proficient as before 2000."

The decline can be traced to many issues. Marian Catholic, which opened in 1958, used to have as many as 15 or 16 parish programs that fed the school. Now there are only three. This year's freshman and sophomore teams were both 0-9.

"On seven of the last nine Sundays, I watched grade schools play on our field and I wondered how many of those kids wanted to play here," Mattio said.

As athletic director, he will help to rebuild the program and rekindle interest among alumni. There are new projects--the school's website, more bleacher seating, a new pressbox. He doesn't fish or golf or hunt but has a passion for collecting football and baseball cards. What will you give him for a Sibby Sisti or a Yogi Berra 1959 card or a Hank Aaron 1960?

He coached son Jamie in 1989 and son Josh in 1991. He is proud of former players and assistants who have gone on to achieve success as head coaches at other schools--Jerry Verde, John Holecek, Mike Romeli, Ron Butschle, Josh Howe and Nick Novak. He misses Bob Bergstrom and Ron Guagenti, who retired after 30 years on his staff.

He'll remember beating Joliet Catholic and Rick Thayer 16-6 in his first season, losing to Joliet Catholic in the Prep Bowl in 1979, winning 12 in a row before losing to Belleville Althoff in the semifinals in 1980, finishing 8-1 in 1981 and, of course, the state championship in 1993. Last March, the team was inducted into the East Suburban Catholic's Hall of Fame.

"I'm thankful to my wife for allowing me to be a kid chasing my dreams all these years," Mattio said. "I have been blessed to work with a lot of great people."

Fantasy Football: 2016 wide receiver sleepers and busts

Fantasy Football: 2016 wide receiver sleepers and busts

Throw the names Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. all in a hat and pick one. It doesn't matter which name you pull out. They're all studs.

Anybody who plays fantasy football should know who the top wide receivers in the game are.

Check out that parity. Only one player that we disagree on.

Analyzing the top guys and telling you which one to draft isn't rocket science. That's why we're here to give you advice on who to target, which sleepers to keep an eye on and the busts for the 2016 season.

Top Targets

Eric Decker, NYJ: When will Decker get his due?? Dude's had his own TV show, has a celebrity wife, played with Peyton Manning and now plays in the biggest city in the U.S. and yet he's still an afterthought in fantasy. Decker has proven to be one of the most consistent players in the league over the last few seasons and there's no indication that will change anytime soon. He's had four straight years of at least 74 catches and 962 yards and scored double digit TDs in three of those four seasons. Last year, he scored 12 TDs in 12 different games, earning double digit fantasy points in nine of his final 10 games. For a guy that's going in the fifth round as the No. 24 WR, that's incredible value. — Tony Andracki

A.J Green, CIN: I know it's a little bit of a "Captain Obvious" moment to tell you that you should target Green, but I'm going to explain why anyway. Currently, Green has an ADP of 13, which has him falling out of the first round in many leagues. Outside of the "Big 3" Green is arguably the safest wide receiver to target in your draft and should be snatched up if he's available anywhere close to the end of the first or the start of the second round. Gone from the Bengals are wide receivers Marvin Jones and Muhamed Sanu, meaning the target burden is going to fall squarely on the shoulders of Green in 2016. He should easily blow his 2015 targets (132) out of the water with only Brandon LaFell, Tyler Eifert and the Jeremy Hill/Gio Bernard tandem as the only trusted targets for quarterback Andy Dalton. As a WR1, Green is an excellent piece to build your team around. — Scott Krinch

Sleepers

Donte Moncrief, IND: Moncrief is a sixth-round pick right now, but count on a higher return on your investment than that. The third-year wideout has a rather high floor considering he's not yet an established name and his ceiling could eclipse that of teammate TY Hilton. Moncrief has a great rapport with Andrew Luck, who should be happy, healthy and back to his dominant self in 2016. Everything here spells breakout this season. — TA

Kevin White, CHI: The wait is over. Bears fans and fantasy players alike are happy to finally see White return to full health. White, the 7th overall selection in 2015 who missed all of his rookie season with a stress fracture in his shin, has been drawing rave reviews throughout the preseason, being compared to Andre Johnson/Reggie Wayne by Bears' wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson. White heads into the 2016 season as the Bears' No. 2 wide receiver opposite Alshon Jeffery. Equipped with off the charts athleticism and speed for his 6-foot-3 frame, White is expected to play a significant role in the Bears offense. His 8th/9th round ADP puts him behind wideouts like DeVante Parker, Jordan Matthews and Torrey Smith, all players that may have a higher floor than White, but don't possess the type of ceiling that he does. If you want a high upside guy in the later rounds, White is your man. — SK

Busts

Allen Hurns, JAX: I hate to label Hurns as a bust heading into the 2016 season because I really like him as a player on the upstart Jaguars offense. However, the problem I have with Hurns is the fact that he's going off the board before the likes of Tyler Lockett, Sterling Shepard and Kevin White. The three aforementioned wide receivers all have massive ceilings next season, while Hurns will undoubtedly see a decline in last season's numbers. I can't see Hurns repeating his 2015 stretch where he went seven straight weeks with a receiving touchdown. Blake Bortles is going to spread the wealth between Allen Robinson, Rashad Greene, Marqise Lee and Hurns, in addition to having a full season of Julius Thomas. If you're expecting another big year from Hurns, temper your enthusiasm. There are too many targets to go around in Jacksonville. — SK

Sammy Watkins, BUF: This isn't about Watkins' talent level. He is one of the most physically gifted receivers in the NFL. But he's being drafted in the third round and I simply don't think he will provide that kind of value. From the No. 12 WR on the board, you'd expect him to be a guy you set and forget in your lineup every week and Watkins is not that. For starters, there is his injury history (he missed three full games last season and was limited for a few others) and he already has a foot issue this season. Then factor in the fact the Bills offense under Tyrod Taylor is not a passing offense and more about ball control and letting Taylor improve or use his legs. Watkins will have some big games, but he won't be consistent enough to warrant such an investment. — TA

Michigan-Michigan State rivalry moves to Twitter with play on Wolverine's slogan

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Michigan-Michigan State rivalry moves to Twitter with play on Wolverine's slogan

"Those who stay will be champions."

That's the familiar motto of Michigan football.

Well, consider that motto co-opted by the Wolverines' in-state rival.

Michigan State's director of college advancement and performance, Curtis Blackwell, tweeted out this image Thursday. Check out the slogan on the right.

Whoa!

Now, this is certainly nothing new, social-media flaps between the two programs. Jim Harbaugh makes a habit of going after people on Twitter, and Mark Dantonio has had his own veiled Twitter shots at Harbaugh & Co. in the past, too.

And, truthfully, Michigan State has reason to boast, as it's the program that's done the most winning in the Great Lakes State in recent seasons. Dantonio has led the Spartans to a trio of conference championships, in 2010, 2013 and 2015. In the past three seasons alone, the Spartans are 36-5 with two conference titles, wins in the Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl and an appearance in the College Football Playoff.

Meanwhile, Michigan has won double-digit games in a single season just twice since 2006.

So while riffing on the Wolverines' motto raised a few eyebrows, the Spartans aren't wrong.

Big Ten preview: J.T. Barrett primed for big year as the Buckeyes' only QB

Big Ten preview: J.T. Barrett primed for big year as the Buckeyes' only QB

This time last year, Ohio State’s quarterback battle was the biggest story in college football.

One candidate led the Buckeyes to an 11-1 regular-season record and a spot in the Big Ten title game, not to mention his fifth-place finish in voting for the Heisman Trophy. The other candidate led the Buckeyes to wins in the conference championship game, the Sugar Bowl and the national championship game, delivering Ohio State its 11th national title in program history.

It was an unenviable decision, and Urban Meyer took forever to actually make it, starting Cardale Jones over the season’s first few games while continuing to play J.T. Barrett. And all the while, the Buckeyes’ offense struggled. Barrett was eventually handed the starting job and put up some big numbers while Ezekiel Elliott carried the offense. But that indecision at the game’s most important position, well it wasn’t what you want on the quest to repeat as national champs.

“I feel like it was a little difficult, but you just try to put yourself in the best position to play. That’s all I tried to do was to focus on what I can control,” Barrett said during Big Ten Media Days. “That was something that coach Meyer tried to do his best as far as me and Cardale and who was going to give Ohio State the best opportunity to win games.”

Even though the Buckeyes only lost one game last season, the quarterback merry-go-round and a comparatively unimpressive offense were the talks of the season — and maybe why it wasn’t back-to-back national titles for Ohio State.

According to Meyer, Barrett had some things working against him that kept him out of the starting role for the season’s first few weeks. This season, there will be no such controversy. Barrett is the guy, without question, and that should be a big help in a year when the Buckeyes are transitioning from an experienced group to a young one.

“He did not have a great training camp last year for whatever reason,” Meyer said. “We had a great conversation, actually drove him to the airport on the way here, talking about that. And there was a lot of distraction with Cardale, with who is going to be playing quarterback. And he was still overcoming a pretty serious injury that took a long time to heal. So he didn't have the spring reps that he needed. He did this year. And I anticipate he'll be as good a quarterback as we've had. It's his show and he knows it and he's prepared.”

Barrett won’t have Elliott to help him out this season — though there are high hopes for Elliott’s successor, Mike Weber — but his numbers from last season and the season before showed he’s more than capable of being one of the best players in the Big Ten. In 2015, Barrett completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 992 yards and 11 touchdowns, rushing 115 times for 682 yards and 11 more touchdowns. Of course Buckeyes fans will be happy to see the same kind of season he had in 2014, when he excelled after being thrust into the starting role after Braxton Miller was injured for the season. That year, Barrett completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 2,834 yards and 34 touchdowns plus 938 rushing yards and 11 additional touchdowns.

Barrett should deliver another sensational season as a redshirt junior, but it’s the offense around him that brings question marks. No one knows what to expect from the youth at almost every other position, be it Weber, inexperienced wideouts or an offensive line that will see a true freshman starter. It makes that comparatively lackluster offensive season a year ago — the Buckeyes still averaged more than 35 points a game and scored at least 28 points all but twice — all the more difficult to correct considering the youth around Barrett.

“As an offense last year, we didn’t function like we knew we could have,” Barrett said. “So seeing that go down last year and knowing the time it’s going to take in order to make sure that we improve and get better and maximize everybody at the wide receiver position and also me as a quarterback. Just having that in the back of our minds, knowing we’ve got to put this work in to make sure that shows on Saturdays.”

But Ohio State remains confident, with those projecting more big things for the Buckeyes doing so mostly because of Barrett. Meyer called this team his most talented group yet in Columbus, an almost shocking statement following the past two seasons, which featured one of the best collections of college talent ever.

Barrett likes the young guys, too, but he echoes the concerns of his coach, too, namely getting this inexperienced group up to snuff before a tough non-conference test at Oklahoma and a rigorous schedule in the Big Ten East Division.

“I feel like the talent’s still there, it’s just more of the experience that’s lacking,” Barrett said. “So with the experience lacking, the confidence might not be there. The talent may be there when we’re out there running drills on a Monday afternoon at 4 o’clock. But being able to get the experience and the confidence for these guys to be able to go out there and know that they’ll be able to make a play on Saturday, I think that’s something that needs to be developed.”