LANSING — When you think T.F. South football, you think of the Padjens, the program's first family.
T.F. South opened in 1959 and John Padjen was the team's first coach. Ever since, there's been a Padjen involved in the program, either playing or coaching.
His nephew, Tom Padjen, played for the Rebels and was head coach for 40 years before retiring in 2016, coaching his son, Mark, along the way. Tom's brother, Bob, and his sons Reis and Peyton all played for T.F. South, as well. Bob and Tom's dad, William, and other uncles played for Wilbur Petree at Thornton Fractional (now T.F. North) in Calumet City.
"When our parents were alive, we always had Sunday dinners and that was the time to talk football," Bob Padjen said. "Our dad was always on the sideline, God bless his soul, and he'd half the time be waiting for us at the gate to let us know what he thought. I think he was just simply proud of the fact that we were carrying on the tradition."
With Tom stepping down, it is little brother Bob's turn to take the reins at T.F. South. He was a head coach from 1989 to 1993 at St. Laurence (Burbank) before he took over the Rebels' defensive coordinator post, where he remained for the last 23 years.
"We knew going into last year it was going to Tom's time to pass the torch," Bob said. "I interviewed for the job, and now I'm proud to be a football coach in District 215 and represent T.F. South. I hope that I carry on the proud tradition. We've had some pretty good success and have some good kids. Hopefully I don't come in and screw it up too bad."
Having not been a head coach for over 20 years, Bob is realizing what his brother had to deal with for the last four decades.
"It's a heckuva lot more work. You have to be organized," he said. "The first day is exhausting with kids coming in to register and making sure they have all their paperwork turned in. Before me, that was Tom doing it and now that's me. I used to sit back and laugh at him when he's dealing with that and now he's laughing at me."
Not that Tom will be far away.
"I talked to him for a half hour on the phone and he's just laughing at some of the things I was telling him, telling me to hang in there," Bob said. "He came out and saw the first practice and he'll be around as an extra pair of eyes. He's honest and he'll tell you something you're not doing."
Tom Padjen played for Johnny Majors at Iowa State before taking over at T.F. South soon after college. According to Bob, Tom has imparted a lot of knowledge from his 40 years of experience and knew situations that were coming.
"He just had an instinct," Bob said. "Hopefully, it's been put into our coaching staff and all of it has sunk in at least a little bit with all of us."
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On the sideline, Bob calls himself "a bulldog type" with Tom as more of a "grandpa" to the guys.
Senior Hasan Jackson, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound two-way lineman, agrees.
"Everything is just way more serious," Jackson said. "'Big Padje' (Tom) was more of a chill guy and would sit back and watch and then let you know. 'Little Padje' (Bob) is out there on the field, yelling at you and getting involved."
He got a taste of it with Padjen as his defensive coordinator.
"We thought he had intensity as our defensive coordinator but oh my God, it's gotten much stronger," Jackson said. "Some people may not like it and will go home and 'Padje' won't let them back. You can't go through the motions and you have to be pedal to the metal at all times. Guys have gotten used to him and you have to if you want to play for him. It's been a little adjustment period to the intensity, but we'll be in much better shape with the way he's been running us and working us out."
Senior running back-linebacker Johnt'e Crawford echoed Jackson's sentiments.
"'Big Padje' is a cool, laid-back dude that I'll always respect. 'Little Padje' is the one that's going to make you kick that into the next level," he said. "I like that in a coach. He brings out the dog in most of us. It took 'Big Padje' longer to tick but 'Little Padje' is always on '10'. He's always up and he's been like that since the first time I saw him as a varsity player. I always feed off that energy, though."
Crawford hopes it translates on to the field, where the Rebels bowed out in the first round of the playoffs last season.
"He expects me and the other guys to take it to the next gear and he expects not perfection, but close to it," he said. "He sets the bar and he wants it at his level at all times and he'll let you know if it's not there. His motto is 'seniors win football games' and he's bringing out the best in our group and leading the way for us."
The Rebels jerseys have never changed from red, white and gray and Bob sure doesn't plan to deviate from that now.
"We just want to continue to build and take a step up in the tradition," he said.