In 1998, the Cary Junior Trojans’ Heavyweight team coaches decided their youth football program needed to make some changes.
What they envisioned was a program that emulated the Cary-Grove program as much as possible.
Led by Big 10 Heavyweight coach Reggie Medinger and assistants Bill Yocius, Mike Kunz and Bob Crear, they met with then C-G football coach Bruce Kay about working together.
“We put together a system which is a true feeder program for Cary-Grove,” Medinger said.
Medinger and the other coaches are retiring from the youth program after making it to the Super Bowl with both the Big 10 and PAC 10 teams Nov. 10. The Big 10 Heavyweights lost to Plainfield, 6-0, in double overtime. The PAC 10 team defeated Prospect Heights, 14-8.
The new system was not always positive for the youth teams, but the coaches were adamant about preparing their players to play in high school. That included running the triple-option offense.
“Our offense is not the best offense for youth football,” Medinger said. “Sometimes it takes a whole year for them to get it.”
The goal was the future for their players and not necessarily the present results.
“We don’t care if you win or lose,” Yocius said they tell the players. “We’re preparing you for the next level.”
The Junior Trojans program insisted that there would be no bench-warmers on the team. Everyone would play.
“Every kid at the youth level should have the opportunity to play,” Crear said. “A lot more kids learned to play football than if they were on a team bent on winning.”
They also gave the heavyweight teams the first pick of all the players, regardless of their size. Their rationale was that when they got to high school, they would have to play against bigger opponents and this would help get them ready.
Some of the tenets of the new program didn’t always produce success right away. Medinger recalls having a team go 0-9 in 2002. That same group lost only two games in the players’ entire high school careers, going undefeated as freshmen and sophomores and losing in the playoffs their two years on varsity.
“The most rewarding thing is you see kids willing to put in the work,” Yocius said. “They get to high school and all the pieces come together.”
The program has been successful, with both heavyweight teams going a combined 72-6 the past three years. But the most rewarding thing for the coaches is seeing the players develop as players and people.
“It’s kind of a complete circle. The idea of schoolwork and family and doing the right thing. Treating people the way that you want to be treated,” said Mark Babick, former assistant coach for the Junior Trojans and a current C-G assistant. “It’s not just the football program per se.”
Having helped lead the program for more than 25 years, the coaches now are seeing children of kids they taught. That has changed the relationship but not the respect the players still have for their coaches.
“A lot of the former players, we consider them friends,” Medinger said.
“Kids who have been out of the program for 10 years still call us coach,” Kunz added.
• Rob Smith is a sports writer for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.