CHICAGO | Frank Lenti's passion for coaching dates back to his high school days when he was coaching CYO basketball at his old grammar school, St. Ailbe on Chicago's South Side.
It was a passion which might have been put on hold and could have been one of those what-if-he-would-have stories.
Lenti graduated from Mount Carmel High School in 1969 and entered Loyola University with the intent of becoming a dentist.
"I was in the pre-dent program, took the science courses," Lenti said. "That lasted about a semester and I decided it wasn't for me.
"I just couldn't see spending the rest of my life standing up and looking down someone's choppers all day."
Lenti decided to try education and coaching. He played club football at Loyola and developed a knowledge for the game that he didn't play in high school.
"I came out for freshman football (1965) and they told me to go home, that I was too small," Lenti said. "My athletic accomplishment at Mount Carmel is that I was captain of the baseball team my senior year."
Lenti's career switch has influenced hundreds of young men as he coached at the grammar school level, then under the late John Cappello at St. Francis de Sales, Frank Esposito at Thornton and Bill Barz at Mount Carmel. He has become the state's winningest football coach with 326 wins.
The Caravan won the program's 11th state football title and 10th under Lenti this season as Mount Carmel beat Glenbard North to become the first Catholic school to win a Class 8A state championship. For his outstanding effort, Lenti is The Times Co-Coach of the Year.
"It's not just me, it is us," Lenti said. "My coaching staff has been with me for a long time and all the hours, the work they put in and the players who make the commitment -- they are the reasons for our success."
Former Richards coach Gary Korhonen, whom Lenti passed for the coaching record, has nothing but praise for for his friend.
"Frank is the greatest high school coach in Illinois, for that matter, the country," Korhonen said. "He teaches kids life's lessons and is very loyal. Frank is just a great person."
Mount Carmel president, Father Tony Mazurkiewicz, O.Carm. is a 1992 Mount Carmel grad and started on the 1990 and 1991 state championship teams before playing at Yale. He laughed about being the boss of someone who was one of his mentors as well as a coach. Mazurkiewicz, who grew up in Glenwood, praised what Lenti has done for the school.
"First of all, Frank was and still is a great motivator of young men and not just on the football field," Mazurkiewicz said. "He is what Mount Carmel is about. He is about not just football, but getting prepared for life and its challenges. Mount Carmel is a product of its people. He has been here 31 years (total) and he is a great example of what Mount Carmel is about."
In his office, which until about 10 years ago was small closet-sized room with a light bulb, Lenti has photos of former players in college uniforms. The only reference to a Carmel grad in the NFL is a Donovan McNabb bobblehead doll. He and Mount Carmel coaches use the athletic field as an extension of the classroom.
"The reason is my goal, my job is to get them to college where they can get an education that will last them for life," Lenti said. "Our goal is not to get them into the pros, but for those who make it to the NFL, that is great, but if we don't make sure they have an education and are prepared for life, then we have not done our job."