I spoke with Nazareth’s head coach Tim Racki on his past coaching experience, life lessons he teaches his athletes and how his team deals with the pressure of winning back to back state championships.
LPI: Can you give our readers a little background on you? Where did you play football at and how long have you been coaching at Nazareth?
TR: I graduated from Driscoll Catholic in 1986 then I played 4 years at Southern Illinois Carbondale. I went back to Driscoll in 1992-1993 to start coaching. I became a head coach in 1998 at Driscoll and was in that position for 7 years. I came to Nazareth in 2005 and have been the head coach here ever since.
LPI: What is your ultimate goal in coaching or what keeps you coming back everyday to coach football after so many years?
TR: I’ve always had a strong passion for the game of football. My whole life I’ve loved the game. The game really helped me and taught me lessons for life off the field. The structure, the leadership and the relationships I built while playing the game was just awesome and something I’ll never forget. After I coached the first year I really got hooked. The wins are great, but it’s more so the bonds and relationships that are built along the way. High school is a different type of mindset than college when comes to football and coaching. I’m really fortunate to be in the position I’m in.
LPI: On or off the field, what are the most important lessons that you try to teach your athletes?
TR: On a daily basis I like to translate how football has core values and life lessons for you off the field. I try to teach the kids core values the game taught me as that is essential for the kids when they get into the real world after football. You face adversity whether it be on the football in a really close game or in life when you have a death in the family. Playing football really primes you and helps you get ready to handle these types of situations. The leadership traits, the team environment, the structure are all things I try to instill in my athletes to become better men.
LPI: Nazareth finished great last year at 7-2 culminating in a 5A state championship over Lincoln Way West. You guys are now 1-0 early this season. What are you and the Roadrunners doing this season that you would say is different than most teams?
TR: We’ve had tremendous leadership here. Our culture is to not live in the past. We learn from it, but we don’t want to dwell on it and try to be like last year’s team. This is a new year and this is our journey this year. At the end of the day it’s really all about those great times in practice, or in the team meals that’s really what it’s all about. I tell my kids that we’ve been fortunate to win 2 state titles in a row and to keep working hard, but if we don’t win it again this year it is okay. We have a lot returners this year as well as some new guys so far everyone is mixing in and playing well together.
LPI: Coming off back to back state championships do you feel like you guys have a target on your back? How do you guys deal with that pressure?
TR: We absolutely have a target on our front and back. I have 3 seniors (Chris Sampleton, Devonte Dunn, Cam Weems) that are great players, very good kids and are humble. They’ve been there (to state) and they know what it takes to get back there. The kids understand that we have to work extra hard to get back to where we were last season because we know other teams are doing the same against us.
A lot of the new kids this year were actually up against us in practice a few years ago as underclassmen so they could get their feet wet on the varsity level. I really just told them to take everything in and learn from the older kids. I can see that it really benefitted them because they are contributing now on the varsity level.
LPI: What do you attribute most to your team’s success recent?
TR: It really came together in 2013. We were really young, but that particular year we had a senior group that were really only successful their senior season. They really embraced the younger guys. Those seniors went above and beyond to make sure the younger guys were comfortable on the varsity level. Those seniors understood that if you’re a freshman and you’re better than a senior you will play. They understood it and it really created a great relationship between the upperclass and underclass players then really went a long way in helping our program develop.
LPI: What game, more so than any others, do you have circled on your calendar this year?
TR: Our conference is very tough. The fortunate thing about that is we don’t have the ability to look past anyone. We take it one week at a time and get prepared for our next game. I also tell this kids to stay in the moment, enjoy the ride and savor everything. So the games circled on our calendar are next week’s game.
LPI: Everyone knows about the highly recruited Devonte Dunn and Chris Sampleton 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.
Cameron Weems: I’m really hoping that he has a big year this year. He’s been a stellar defensive player for 3 years now. He is skilled on offense and special teams as well and because of that he’s really not going to be coming off the field much for us. I really think he’s going to have a big year for us. Yes, he’s a bit undersized, but we had scouts from Northern Iowa and Illinois State come look at him and they were very impressed with him and are continuing to look at him throughout his senior season. He’s got great speed, hip movement, very quick feet and is a tremendous leader. He’s a high character kid with no problems off the field and is just a heck of a kid all around.
Aidan Breshnahan: Aidan is our kicker and last year was his first year playing organized football. He was a soccer kid before that so he’s still getting used to the game.. He was so good last year for us and without ever knowing how to kick he was consistently kicking into the endzone on kickoffs. He’s he’s still learning, but he’s got a big leg that has a lot of upside in it.
AJ Rouse: AJ is our QB this year. Unfortunately he cut a tendon in his hand and will probably be back around week 4 for us. He’s a tremendous athlete, strong, accurate arm, and can run. A big kid that is very athletic. I think he has a chance to play at the D1 level.