Moments like this were made for Joliet Catholic Academy football coach and athletic director Dan Sharp.
As the opening speaker of the 2011 Hillmen Varsity Football Banquet, held Monday at the Elks Lodge, Sharp set the evening’s tone with his heartfelt thanks — calling the season “one of the best years ever.”
“Tonight, we celebrate a great year,” he said. “We finished in second place, but that can’t take away from the joy we felt together. Personally, it was one of the best years ever for me, and we gather for the last time together to reminisce about the great games, and great times, we had together as a team.
“This is a special night put together by special people. Thanks to the football moms … they’re incredible. We are truly blessed to have them. We are truly blessed to have (the Rev.) Jeff (Smialek) on the sidelines and with his masses. His homilies and presence always brought inspiration to our players.”
Sharp also acknowledged the outstanding work of Nancy Lupton, the school’s invaluable athletic administrative assistant, boys athletic coordinator and offensive line coach Dave Douglas, and Bob “Captain Bob” Lovstad for the football dinners. Sharp then introduced Jeff Budz, JCA’s Principal/CEO.
“I can’t be more proud of the accomplishments of this team,” Budz said. “On behalf of the administration, thank you for the excitement and publicity you brought to our school and to the parents for the support of our school. We have great kids at JCA; we have great football players at JCA.
“That is a testament to the parents. Our players were true Hillmen to the final buzzer. Thanks to our coaching staff and thanks to Dan Sharp, our coach and AD. To me, to us, you are the best in the state.”
Again at the podium, Sharp paid homage to the program’s success — a record 13 state titles in 17 appearances, including eight trips downstate in the past 12 years for six state titles and two runnersup.
“I can’t thank my wife (Jean) enough,” he said. “She’s there in the good times and the bad. People ask me, ‘Why do you coach?’ I coach because we have the best kids, the best families and the best parents.
“We love one another, we care for one another, and that’s taught. Don’t give up – that is taught. Your hard work and dedication as parents, our players emulate that. It’s a tough thing in this day and age to be a parent, but it’s important, and that’s why we have great camaraderie and a family atmosphere.”
Before handing out the special awards, Sharp praised his coaching staff: freshman head coach Darren Hunter, freshman defensive coordinator Brian Vaughan, sophomore head coach Jason Midlock, sophomore defensive coordinator Matt Clementi, sophomore assistants Leo Michalak, Bob Lovstad and Dave Moak, varsity co-offensive coordinator Jake Jaworski, varsity defensive coordinator Cory McLaughlin, varsity defensive line coaches Chris Kinsella and Francis Ruettiger (strength and conditioning), defensive assistant/special teams Mark Mettille, offensive line assistant/special teams Rick Raasch, defensive backs coach Earl Jones and trainers Mark Pullara and Saul Ramirez.
Receiving special awards were running backs Ty Isaac and Malin Jones and sophomore offensive lineman J.B. Butler. Isaac and Jones were named All-State for Class 5A by the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association. Jones was named an All-American by Semper Fidelis/Junior Rank. Butler was honored as an Academic All-State selection. Isaac and Jones added multiple all-state awards.
All-conference certificates for the East Suburban Catholic were handed out to offensive linemen Jake Jankowski, Carson Smith and Butler, to Isaac and Jones, to linebacker Mike Passo, defensive back Dominick Allen and kicker/tight end Isaac Grashoff. Isaac was picked as the ESCC’s Most Valuable Player.
Varsity letters were earned by Dominick Allen (Minooka), Cody Beck (Romeoville), Lino Bibian (Joliet), Austin Bolton (Romeoville), Nick Bolek (Bolingbrook), Tim Brociek (Bolingbrook), J.B. Butler (Plainfield), Dan Campbell (Joliet), Adam Collins (Plainfield), Nick Collofello (Joliet), Keith Craig (Joliet), Cody Crater (Joliet), Nate Dollinger (Joliet), Josh Falk (Joliet), Brody Fay (Joliet), Jacob Ford (Romeoville), Matt Frolik (Plainfield), Mike Giaudrone (Joliet), Isaac Grashoff (Plainfield), Cody Hakey (Shorewood), Jalen Hansel (Joliet), Grant Harrison (Shorewood), Justin Hunter (Hillside), Ty Isaac (Shorewood), Jake Jankowski (Joliet), Kevin Jensen (Millington), Malin Jones (Naperville), Mike Kaminski (Joliet), Pat Kripp (Plainfield), Matt Madrigal (Joliet), Jeremy Malec (Joliet), Matt Mammosser (Joliet), Alex Mantis (Joliet), Anthony McInerney (Bolingbrook), Austin Miller (Plainfield), Nick Morrison (Homer Glen), Mike Passo (Plainfield), Tyler Reitz (Plainfield), Zach Rezin (Morris), Nick Rodriguez (Romeoville), Craig Slowik (Shorewood), Clayton Smith (Monee), Carson Smith (Monee), Max Terlep (Joliet), Andrew Underwood (Shorewood), Eric Vanisko (Joliet), J.C. Wagner (Joliet), Hunter Warning (Shorewood), Jack Whalen (Joliet) and Brody Wilhelmi (Crest Hill).
Allen, Falk, Mantis and Vanisko also were recognized as Illinois State Scholars. The Northwestern University-bound Jones was recognized as team captain, with Bolton, Frolik, Grashoff, Passo and Jankowski as co-captains. Ruettiger culminated the event by leading the “Gung Ho” prayer, a tradition started by the Rev. Ray Foster, who passed away this spring.
And in closing, Sharp spoke as always from the heart.
“It was a privilege, an honor and a joy to coach you,” Sharp said. “We set our goals high. You got better every day; you got closer every day. You may not have ended up as champions, but you played as champions and you acted like champions. You may not have gotten gold, but you gave your very best.
“As teammates, you will be friends for life, and 10-20 years from now, you won’t remember the final scores. You will remember each other. To the sophomores and juniors, be ready because we’re going back. And to the seniors who are graduating, you are everything that Joliet Catholic is all about.”