When new McHenry football coach Nat Zunkel walks into the locker room for summer practice, he makes an immediate impression on his players, according to senior linebacker and tight end Colton Folliard.
“First thing he does is he comes in the room screaming, clapping and getting everyone riled up,” Folliard said. “It starts off the day to a great start.”
Zunkel’s energy during the dog days of summer workouts has inspired players such as senior linebacker and fullback Kyle Lim.
“His energy level is like through the roof,” Lim said. “He’s ready to work every single day, ready to pump us up. He strongly believes that if we have a positive mindset, and we’re ready to go, and we’re as excited as he is, we’re going to be ready to go, we’re going to keep on pushing ourselves.”
The new coach of the Warriors previously coached at Mercer County in Aledo, where he amassed a 65-16 record in seven years and won a Class 2A state title. The coach’s championship pedigree has inspired players at a school that hasn’t made the playoffs in eight seasons to take his instruction seriously.
“When he comes to a town that hasn’t had the success we’ve been looking for in a long time, he has the experience in his techniques in coaching over in Mercer County that he has the experience to bring that change with him, and I see a big change already,” Folliard said.
Zunkel said he is a defensive-minded coach, and has focused on working with linebackers this offseason. The coach said his successful teams at Mercer County were based on a small but fast defense, and he is implementing speed training at McHenry this offseason.
As new dean of McHenry and former assistant principal at Mercer County, Zunkel’s other career involves giving students discipline and structure. Lim said that experience is a positive influence on Zunkel as a coach.
“Everything’s more punctual,” Lim said. “You have a set time for this, we can’t go past this time, no matter what ended. He’s just really, really good at managing time. ... He treats us with respect, as adults and everything. But if we step out of line, or if we don’t respect him, then he knows what to do, he knows how to [give] constructive criticism, that kind of thing.”
Zunkel said he emphasizes that even with the structure imposed by coaches, it ultimately is up to the players to what extent they will take advantage of their summer downtime.
“We talk about the kids owning their work ethic, owning their attitude in the summer, respecting the program, and really focusing on self-improvement in everything during this time that we’re together, and not just athletics, but in character-building and things of that circumstance, as well,” Zunkel said.
For Lim, the fresh start with a new coaching staff presents a unique opportunity to help McHenry football get back on track toward the success it experienced in 20 consecutive playoff appearances from 1988 through 2007.
“I really think that this season can be really special,” Lim said. “Our whole team’s goal is to get to the playoffs. ... If we can do that, that’s the ignition to restarting the winning tradition. I would love to be known as the team, as the generation, as the class that really turned around the program. That would be something that would be really special to me.”