PREP FOOTBALL

New era beginning for Marian, Verde

2013-08-23T19:00:00Z New era beginning for Marian, VerdePhil Arvia Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
August 23, 2013 7:00 pm  • 

It wasn't exactly as hectic as the process that led him last month to pick the University of Illinois as his college football destination, but Matt Domer faced another big choice a little more than four years ago.

Where would he go to high school?

His brothers attended and played football at Homewood-Flossmoor. Domer himself was a player for the local youth team, the H-F Junior Vikings. His father was leaning toward Mount Carmel, which ultimately won out — and Domer, with a state championship under his belt, isn't complaining.

But did he ever contemplate Marian Catholic?

"No," he said with a short laugh. "Not at all."

That, however, was then. Were he an eighth-grader now, would Marian enter the picture?

"It definitely could," Domer said. "That coach, he has great coaching ability. Those guys over there, I know most of them."

"That coach" is new Marian top man Jerry Verde. "Those guys" are the raft of talent at Crete-Monee, including blue-chip wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, now at Ole Miss, Verde took to a state title in 2012.

Nothing against the legendary Dave Mattio, who spent 37 seasons as Marian's coach, but Domer wasn't born when the Spartans won the 1993 Class 4A state title, and was a year away from kindergarten for their last double-digit win season in 2000.

Verde, who played linebacker on the 1993 squad, is shiny and new. Kids like shiny and new. At least, that's the hope in Spartans' country, which is trying to bounce back from consecutive losing seasons on the football field and an explosion of athletic developments at H-F.

In Flossmoor, the Vikings have added girls basketball coach Anthony Smith, who won four state titles at Bolingbrook, and boys volleyball coach Bob St. Leger, who won one at Marist, for the coming school year. H-F is also in the midst of a $25 million renovation of its North building, predominantly athletic facilities.

Four miles southeast, Verde is the good news at Marian, along with a potential Mr. Basketball in Tyler Ulis and a girls team loaded with returning players from its state championship squad. The bad news is that Annie Byrne, who coached the girls to that title, left Marian in July to run an athletic facility in Bourbonnais. Dan Murray succeeds her and hopes to build on the program's great tradition.

In short, it is an interesting time to be a grade-schooler from Homewood with a bit of athletic talent.

"Yeah," Verde said, more than a little wary of the topic. "You know, I taught at H-F for three years, and it really is great, the teachers there are great.

"Really, the choice you make if you're that young person is: Do you want to go to a school with 3,000 or do you want to go to a school with — well, we're going to be right around 1,300 this year. The individual attention that a student is going to get here is probably a little different than being one of 3,000 at H-F. And that's in no way, shape or form putting down H-F ...  it's a nice place."

H-F's enrollment will likely be a shade under 3,000. Its student-to-teacher ratio of 20.2:1 in the last state report card isn't that much different than the 19:1 Marian claims (a parochial school, Marian isn't listed in the report card).

Marian's students post an average ACT score of 24.6 in 2011, according to its 2011 Open House brochure. H-F's average ACT in 2011-12 was 21.3 according to state figures.

Of course, H-F is a public school. Marian comes with a hefty tuition.

"Recruiting is obviously illegal in the IHSA," Verde said. "So, you've just got to get the word out that your program is here, you're looking to turn the corner and to build something special.

"Obviously, there's a little bit of excitement with me being here now, and we're just looking to build off that. We're looking to reconnect with some of the alumni who haven't been involved in a little while. When you combine all those things, you're just trying to put a new energy into what we're doing.

"You can invite kids here. Week 2, we're putting together a youth football night when we play Shepard at home. We're going to invite any eighth graders who wear their jerseys to come out and see the game."

That may prove to be the biggest game of the season for Verde, who was named the Marian coach just weeks before its entrance exams for the 2013-14 school year. Thus, his program is still feeling the numbers crunch Mattio endured as the Spartans went 1-26 across three levels last season.

"A big increase in freshman numbers was kind of hard for us to do," Verde said. "Kids who were going to go the private school route already knew where they were going to test by the time I got the job. Hopefully the real increase happens with this next class."

Which isn't to say Verde has no hopes for his current classes.

"Understanding it's a building process, that doesn't mean you throw away the 2013 season," Verde said. "That doesn't mean you throw away the 2014 season. You still, as a coach, work your rear end off for the kids who are here.

"I'm excited for the upcoming season. I think we've got a lot of skill players. I think we can win football games, I really do, this year."

Verde, who ran the defense at Crete-Monee, will take over the offense at Marian. Expect to see some of the whiz-bang traits of the Warriors' pass-happy attack blended with former offensive coordinator Mike Taylor's more ground-oriented play-calling.

Taylor, also the boys basketball coach, is sticking around to coach the quarterbacks and running backs, a gesture appreciated, Verde said, "Especially with what, potentially, the basketball team could do."

Speaking of potential, Verde is touting the skills of quarterback Pat Schmidt, back from a broken passing hand suffered early last season, running back Dillon Burns and wideouts Ki-Jana Crawford, Emilio Garza and Louie Longo.

He also has "Division I-caliber" specialists in punter Carlos Gallegos and placekicker Chris Taborn.

And a new scoreboard, new visitors' stands, a new logo and new Under Armour uniforms.

"Marian has a wonderful tradition of football to start with," Verde said. "Dave Mattio's record speaks for itself. ... and it's not like Marian has been unsuccessful for a long time. It's really been just two years.

"The issue we face going forward is, one, a retention issue for the kids we do get, because of the rigorous academic standards. That's something parents are very proud of when they send their kids to Marian. In the past, it's caused issues for us in the football program with retention.

"But, we'd like to think that any kid in the are now who's interested in football will at least look at what we've got to offer."

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