I spoke with another Illinois High School football coaching legend in Bishop McNamara’s head coach Rich Zinnani on his players flying under the radar, how his teams have had so much success over the years and more.
LPI: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you play football at, how long have you been coaching and how did you get into it?
RZ: I went to Bishop Mac then played a couple years at Northern Illinois and graduated with a degree in business admin. I had a chance to come back here to Bishop Mac to teach and coach so I took it. This is my 42nd year as head coach and my 3rd year coaching since I retired.
LPI: What is your ultimate goal in coaching or what keeps you coming back everyday to coach football after so many years?
RZ: It’s been a great lifestyle and a great experience. I’m from here and it’s just been great. My goal is to help the school be as good as it can be. We’ve won 5 state championships a few runner ups, we just got into 500 wins in school history. I also want to keep the kids happy and help them in their lives after football.
LPI: On or off the field, what are the most important lessons that you try to teach your athletes?
RZ: We want the kids to understand how to play football the right way. It’s a lot of hard work. They have goals, but they fall down and they have to learn how to keep with their goals and not give up. We’re a catholic school so we teach religion and prayers for our kids. We have a family atmosphere and we want our kids to go to college and get them ready to be successful after college.
LPI: You guys finished great last year at 8-1 culminating in a 3A state championship over Unity, but are 0-1 this season after facing a tough Immaculate Conception team. What are you and the Fighting Irish doing this season that you would say is different than most teams so you can get back to that state title game?
RZ: We have a couple kids back that are really good, but for the most part, we have a different team. We knew the first 3 games were going to be very tough. We have Bolingbrook this week then St. Laurence after that so it isn’t easy. We’re playing against schools that are much bigger than us. We play to win every week and this week is going to be a challenge, but if we make the playoffs, it’s games like this early in the season that get us ready.
LPI: Coming off a state championship do you feel like you guys have a target on your back? How do you guys deal with that pressure?
RZ: There’s always a target on our back. Winning a state championship or not we have great football tradition and we always have great rivalries. We really just take it one week at a time, try to enjoy the ride and focus on the playoffs when they come.
LPI: What do you attribute most to winning 5 state championships and your team’s consistent success?
RZ: My philosophy has always been to make a kid feel confident in himself and in what he is doing so he wants to be successful. If he respects you and knows he’s doing something right then he will work harder and play better and faster. If you can get a player like that then that’s good for your team, if you can get a team like that then you’re in really good shape and have a great chance to succeed.
LPI: What game, more so than any others, do you have circled on your calendar this year?
RZ: We don’t play them often, but I love that we are playing Bolingbrook this week. They’re a classy 8A team with a lot of good kids. We’re going to be the underdog and we’re really looking forward to it so we can show them what we can do.
LPI: Everyone knows about the highly recruited Chris Bell and Dylan Deatherage as they are great players. Tell me about some guys on your roster that you believe are quality recruits, but are for whatever reason, flying under the radar a bit in terms of recruiting.
Ariez Andrew: He’s a 5’10” 175 lb CB. He’s got good cover skills, is very fast and is in the mix with a few D1 schools. I think he can exceed at the next level.
Selwyn Calhoun: He’s looking more at D2/D3 schools. He’s going to be a 3 year starter for us at LB. He also plays TE, but will probably play LB at the next level. He’s a great student, has great awareness and good size.
Giavion Mason: He’s my starting QB and FS. He started as sophomore at FS for us. He’s 6’2” 190 and is a left handed thrower. He’s been to a few camps and is in the mix with some D1 schools. He’s a great athlete that with play ATH at next level. Also has great hands and is a good DB.
Trenton Harrison: He’s a JR and plays RB and LB for us. He had a good offseason and is just coming into his own now. He likely profiles as a D2/D3 kid just depends how this season goes..
Payton Gerberding: Football is still new to him and he’s very raw. He’s our QB on sophomores right now, but he has a great arm, is very accurate with nice touch. I can see him playing at the next level.
Tyshon King: Tyshon is the starting RB on sophomores. He plays RB and LB. He’s a great hitter, a great runner and is very fast.
Logan Johnson: Logan is a 6’3” 215lb sophomore that plays OL. He’s got good instincts especially for a sophomore. He’s someone to keep an eye on.
Tyler Hiller: He’s only a freshman, but is already a great athlete. He plays QB, DB, is a gamer, is excellent at baseball and basketball as well. I think he’s athletic enough to play whatever sports he wants in college.
Kevin Allen: Another freshman WR, DB. He’s very strong, good hands, and a great hitter. He’s only a freshman, but he’s got a good chance to play at the next level.