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."

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system at 9:51 p.m. on Wednesday as Aroldis Chapman trotted toward the mound. Nothing would get lost in translation as the Cubs unleashed their new closer on the White Sox.

Chapman didn’t feel the full rush of adrenaline, because a revived offense scored five runs in the eighth inning, ending the save situation and any real suspense for the crowd of 41,166. The game within the game became looking up at the 3,990-square-foot LED video board in left field for the velocity reading after each pitch and listening to the oohs and aahs.

Chapman made it look easy against the middle of the White Sox lineup, with 13 of his 15 pitches clocked between 100 and 103 mph in the ninth inning of an 8-1 victory. That triple-digit default setting, fluid left-handed delivery and intimidating presence showed why the Cubs made a game-changing trade with the New York Yankees.

The first impressions from Tuesday’s press conference apparently bothered Chapman enough that he initially refused to speak to the reporters waiting around his locker after his debut. There had been questions about his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, the off-the-field expectations from chairman Tom Ricketts and where the wires got crossed with coach/translator Henry Blanco.

After taking a shower – and listening to a few associates inside the clubhouse – Chapman agreed to two minutes of questions with catcher Miguel Montero acting as his translator.

“It happened,” Chapman said when asked about his portrayal in the Chicago media. “Don’t want to go further with it.”

The controversy will begin to fade after Chapman struck out Jose Abreu swinging at a 91-mph slider that almost scraped the dirt, forced Todd Frazier into a routine groundball and struck out pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia looking at a 103-mph fastball.

“It’s just entertaining to watch the gun, beyond everything else,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a different kind of a pitcher. You don’t see that every 100 years or so. He’s just that good. Everybody talks about the fastball. How good is the slider? The slider is devastating.

“He was very calm in the moment. He was able to get through the last couple days to go out there. It was almost good it wasn’t a save situation just to get his feet on the ground.”

Picture the drama and the excitement when Chapman isn’t throwing with a seven-run lead and has to get the final three outs in a playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“I’m not impressed – I thought we were getting a guy that threw 105,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel joked. “I’ve never seen anything like it.

“It’s jaw-dropping. To see that type of velocity and command, it’s almost unfair to have a slider and offspeed pitches after that, too.”

This is what the Cubs envisioned when they decided to weather the media storms and absorb the PR hits, how Maddon could reimagine the entire bullpen and the whole team would sense the game-over feeling when the ball is in Chapman’s left hand.

“That’s a confidence-booster for us and it’s a morale kick for anybody out there,” Hammel said. “For the other side, it’s got to be black clouds: ‘Oh man, we can’t let the bullpen get in there.’”

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

The New York Yankees directed blanket coverage of the Cubs in the weeks leading up to the Aroldis Chapman deal, looking closely at prospects throughout their farm system. Three names figured to be prominent if the Yankees decided to sell and the Cubs wanted to make a blockbuster trade: Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ.

The Yankees made Torres their headliner in that four-player return from the Cubs, getting the organization’s top prospect and a supremely talented defensive shortstop out of Venezuela. The Cubs invested $1.7 million in Torres during the summer of 2013, the signing formalized the same day as the Jake Arrieta trade with the Baltimore Orioles.

This has been years in the making for Theo Epstein’s front office, building the first-place team that drew 41,116 to Wrigley Field for Wednesday night’s 8-1 crosstown victory over the White Sox, watching Chapman throw 13 pitches in the ninth inning that hit triple digits on the huge video board, understanding that the Cubs had to sacrifice parts of their future for the now.

“That’s the right word – inevitable – just because of the timing of when we thought we were going to be good,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. “We all knew as we were doing this that there was going to come that time when you trade the player that you not only feel is an impact-type prospect, but the organization just loves the person.

“Gleyber certainly fits that. That was one of the tougher calls I’ve ever had where we’re trading a guy, just because of how much the kid meant to us personally, and just hearing him, too.

“He was – as you would expect (with) a 19-year-old – shaken up and saddened by it, just because in three short years he had dreamt of nothing but being a Cub and playing here at Wrigley. I just told him: ‘You’ll still be wearing pinstripes. They’ll just be a different (color).’”

The Cubs didn’t want to trade core guys off their major-league roster and have a middle-infield foundation with Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist. So they gave up a high-floor player from Class-A Myrtle Beach while holding onto Jimenez and Happ and seeking out more possible deals before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“All of them would have been hard to swallow,” McLeod said. “But we know that’s part of why we try to stockpile as much talent as we can.”

The Cubs can market Happ as another polished college switch-hitter with first-round pedigree, second baseman/outfielder versatility and an early ETA (already at Double-A Tennessee during his first full season of professional baseball).

Jimenez – who got a $2.8 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic during the same signing class as Torres – enjoyed a breakout performance during the All-Star Futures Game in San Diego and almost has a .900 OPS at Class-A South Bend.

At the age of 19, with a 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and a smooth right-handed swing, Jimenez reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman season at the University of San Diego, meaning the sky is the limit.

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

The Crosstown Classic concludes on Thursday at Wrigley Field as the White Sox square off against the Cubs on CSN Chicago. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (14-3, 3.18 ERA) vs. John Lackey (7-7, 3.79 ERA)

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