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."