John Konecki, the new head football coach at Crete-Monee, has put his stamp on the program. But he helped to build it. And last year's team went 14-0 and won a state championship. So, as the old saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?
"Changes have taken place that needed to take place," Konecki said. "Things are different. We're setting goals and meeting with kids. The broad strokes we created together will stay in place. This program was put together over six years and we'll just fine-tune and tweak here."
Konecki, 36, was coach Jerry Verde's offensive coordinator at Crete-Monee for six years. They had worked together for 10 years. When Verde announced he was leaving to succeed his old coach Dave Mattio at Marian Catholic, his alma mater, Konecki was ready to step in.
"He recommended me for the job," Konecki said. "Everyone knew I wanted the job. I would have been devastated if I didn't get it. It would have been tough to see someone else get it. But the stars aligned and I'm blessed and lucky and excited to take on this endeavor."
Konecki, a 1995 graduate of Brother Rice, couldn't play football in high school because he was born with spinal stenosis, a congenital birth defect. At Eastern Illinois, he majored in social studies. But he always wanted to coach football, his first love.
"I was devastated when I was told I couldn't play football anymore. But I found a way to stay involved," said Konecki, who threw the discus and shot and also wrestled in high school.
After graduating from EIU, he worked under veteran football coach Rich Zinanni at Bishop McNamara in Kankakee, then was director of admissions at Brother Rice and taught summer school at Marian Catholic.
At Marian Catholic, he met Verde, who also was teaching summer school. Informed of an opening for a sophomore coach at Marian Catholic, he got the job. Then Verde hired him to join his staff at Crete-Monee.
Since 2009, Konecki also has served as head coach for the Chicago Force, the women's tackle football team.
Verde didn't leave the cupboard empty. Quarterback Marcus Terrell, All-America wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and receiver Lance Lenoir have graduated. But Konecki is convinced that there is enough talent coming back to make a serious run at another state championship.
"The first thing I did after I got the job was meet with the staff and the team and outlined expectations," he said. "Let the kids get in the weight room. Now we have to get all of our oars in the water and continue with the success."
Konecki met with individual varsity and sophomore players to outline goals for grade-point averages and in the weight room. The Warriors return seven defensive starters and two offensive starters.
"We will work hard to stay in the hunt and be extremely competitive," the coach said. "Looking over the roster from top to bottom, I see a group of great kids, extremely talented, with an insatiable desire to get better. They have shown us thus far that they have bought in and will answer the challenge."
When you win a state title, you put a target on your back and many schools want to take aim. Crete-Monee will open against Thornton Fractional South next season and will meet Simeon, Benet and quarterback Jack Beneventi and Evanston in non-conference games.
Crete-Monee won't be lacking for talent to meet the challenge. Konecki has at least five Division I prospects -- linebacker Nyles Morgan, defensive end Chris Slayton, linebackers Jonathan Draper and Kwante Bright and sophomore wide receiver/linebacker Omari Stringer.
Morgan, 6-foot-3, 230-pounder, has 23 scholarship offers. He is being as highly recruited as Treadwell, the No. 6 player in the nation who committed to Ole Miss. Morgan lists Notre Dame, Northwestern, Ole Miss and Michigan as his favorites.
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"He is our leader. His class is undefeated in its high school career. It's a special group of kids," Konecki said. "He can run downhill and fill a gap and run sideline to sideline as well as anyone I've seen. He also is very intelligent. In the recruiting process, his grades have stayed up and he is the same kid he was when he walked into the school as a freshman. He wants to finish his high school career on a high note."
Slayton, a 6-foot-5, 250-pounder with a 30-inch vertical leap, is athletically gifted. He came on strong late last season and had a great playoff run, attracting a lot of attention from college coaches. Michigan State, Ball State and Toledo have offered. But many more will offer.
"He was a basketball player who was playing football. Then he realized his future is in football," Konecki said. "He came on like gangbusters. He is just starting to get offers. As talented as Morgan is at linebacker, Slayton can be that at defensive end. What is impressive about him is he is a big guy who is extremely athletic. He runs with the fastest players on our squad. He has only scratched the surface of his potential."
Konecki wants to be sure that Morgan and Slayton make informed decisions, that they take visits and evaluate every college and its staff.
"Once a kid commits, we are done. School is closed. We don't want a kid to change his mind after he commits -- except if their is a coaching change. We don't want to be foot-floppers or de-commitments. If we take longer, it is for good measure and for the kids to realize it is a good fit," he said.
Konecki predicts that Stringer, a 6-foot-3, 195-pounder, will be the next great star at Crete-Monee after Morgan and Slayton.
"Look for him to fill the production of Treadwell and Lenoir. He will be our next highly recruited player," the coach said.
But there is at least one question mark. Who will replace Terrell at quarterback? The job is wide open with juniors Lucas Hommes, Brandon Howard and Anthony Townsend and sophomore Will Smith battling for the starting spot. All of them are well acquainted with Konecki's no-huddle, shotgun spread offense.
Some things never change.