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Disabato: Lemont scores a TD with Kooi hire

New Lemont coach Bret Kooi (right) is looking duplicate success he had Lockport. He led Lockport consecutive Class 8A titles

New Lemont coach Bret Kooi (right) is looking to duplicate the success he had at Lockport. He led Lockport to consecutive Class 8A titles in 2002 and ’03 and 10 playoff appearances in 17 years. | Sun-Times Media file photo

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Updated: March 14, 2014 8:50AM



Bret Kooi couldn’t hide his excitement about becoming Lemont’s new football coach.

The exuberance rolled off his tongue similar to a child providing Santa Claus with a Christmas wish list.

Kooi, 50, should be excited.

Lemont is a prime-time position. Tradition, success, superb facilities, outstanding feeder programs ... it’s all there.

So is the opportunity to earn an excellent education — as good as any of the top schools in the area.

Which is why the coaching vacancy was so coveted — 65 applicants in all.

“It’s an awesome opportunity,” Kooi said. “You have no idea how excited I am. I couldn’t be more excited.”

I’m hopeful the feeling is mutual from the Lemont football community.

If not, it should be.

Rarely is a two-time state championship coach available to hire, such as Kooi, who led Lockport to consecutive Class 8A titles in 2002 and ’03 and 10 playoff appearances in 17 years.

It’s an impressive body of work, for sure.

But beyond the resume, what should excite Lemont fans most is Kooi’s willingness to devise a game plan that maximizes his players’ strengths. If that means smashmouth football, he’ll put the pieces in place. If it means a spread attack, he’ll produce a winning formula.

This isn’t a man that’s too stubborn or set in his ways to adjust.

Translation: Kooi won’t try to fit square pegs in round holes.

Particularly on offense, which is where he earned his stripes. When Kooi had running back Craig Duppong at Lockport, he often put the ball in the young man’s hands. Duppong twice rushed for eight touchdowns in a game.

When he had Division I stud quarterbacks such as Steve Walker and Jake Christensen, he made certain to showcase their skills in an offense that was geared more to pass.

As offensive coordinator at Lincoln-Way North the past two seasons, Kooi made sure running back Julian Hylton touched the ball as much as possible. He’s fully aware Division I recruits such as the Illinois-bound Hylton don’t come along often. Hylton led the area in rushing yards in 2013.

“Bret has successful head coaching experience and is so well respected by everybody,” Lemont athletic director John Young said. “He’s a man of high character and he knows football. He knows what we need.”

Lemont is returning eight starters on offense, including linemen Nate Palermo, Robert Wehn, David Kucharski, Dan King and Casey O’Brien, along with receiver Jimmy Kepouros, running back Thomas Bielka and quarterbacks Chris Thompson and Ryan Dawson. Throw in dynamic receiver Flynn Nagel, who transferred from Marist a month ago, and the offense has the makings of a juggernaut.

I know this: I’d be extremely excited if I was one of those returning players to have an opportunity to play in a Kooi-led offense.

“I’m looking forward to sitting down and getting to know the (coaching) staff and players,” Kooi said. “Once I do that, we’ll have a better idea of what we’re going to do.”

If there’s a slight drawback, it’s that for the time being Kooi will remain at Lockport as a teacher. Young, however, was hopeful Kooi would join the Lemont faculty at some point in the near future.

“It’s a situation that a little different but we’re going to make it work,” Young said. “In our best interests and in a perfect world, we would have all of our head coaches in the building. In Bret’s case, whether that changes in a month or two or one-and-a-half years, we’ll adapt until then.”

Ironically, Lockport, too, is in the market for a new coach after parting ways with Don McKillip, who succeeded Kooi, who had resigned, three years ago.

“I was content doing what I was doing unless something perfect popped up,” said Kooi, a Lockport resident. “I’m familiar with the school and the community. Lemont’s a great place.”

Tough to argue that.



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