Dave Mattio, with his wife, Jody, by his side, is honored at halftime of the game between Marian Catholic and Carmel. Mattio retired after coaching the Marian football team for 37 years. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 10, 2013 6:29AM
Dave Mattio is going to Disney World.
The venerable Marian Catholic football coach hung up the cleats after 37 years as head coach and former players and Spartans alums sent him off with a rousing ceremony Friday.
Mattio was honored at halftime of the Marian-Carmel basketball game, joined on the court by his wife, Jody. Dave Bruni presented the couple with an all-expenses paid gift package to Disney World as Mattio’s former players formed a circle around the coach and gave him a huge ovation.
“This has all come full circle for me,’’ Mattio said. “This is not a celebration of the individual. It is a celebration of all of these guys and how they made this a great program.’’
Mattio also received a proclamation from the Illinois House of Representatives in appreciation of his service to the school.
“We got wind of his retirement and we said that we have to do something for somebody who did so much for us,’’ Bruni said. “We sent out emails about five weeks ago and this thing just grew so fast.’’
The highlight of Mattio’s coaching career was his 1993 Class 4A state championship team. The middle linebacker on that team was Jerry Verde, who went on to lead Crete-Monee to a state championship as its head coach this year.
“I don’t think Dave is an old-school or a new-school coach,’’ Verde said. “It’s about caring for kids and wanting kids to succeed and that is just genuine. A lot of what I do as a coach comes from him. He held the kids accountable and he made kids take ownership of their teams.’’
Mattio sent four players to the NFL. Rodney Harrison, Mike Prior, Dennis Kelly and John Holecek all played in the professional ranks.
“He was always about principles and fundamentals,’’ said Holecek, Loyola’s football coach. “He always challenged me to be my best and got the most out of me. Over time, that built up my confidence. He was about principles and making strong men.’’
Randall Wells, who graduated this year, went on to the College of DuPage, where his team recently won a national championship.
“Coach showed me how to work hard out here,’’ Wells said. “He always stressed academics. If you didn’t have good grades, you weren’t going to play.’’
Mike Romeli is another of Mattio’s pupils who is now coaching. He leads the program at Plainfield East. The 2002 graduate also remembered Mattio as a coach who held kids accountable.
His senior year evoked a favorite memory for Romeli.
“He loved going to Florida every summer with his family,” Romeli said of Mattio. “The one trip he came back and he could barely walk. It didn’t stop him and he never let us know what happened. I found out later that he fell asleep in the sun with his whole body covered except for his feet, which got badly sunburned.’’
Hopefully, there’s suntan lotion in that gift package.