Iroquois West football under new management

Iroquois West football under new management

GILMAN — The garage at Cam Stone's house in Gilman turned into a popular gathering place this offseason thanks to a projector screen and hours of game film to dissect from last season's Iroquois West football team.

Meetings have taken place inside these confines. A few arguments have ensued. Not all that surprising for a new coaching staff trying to find its footing.

"It's definitely a 'we' thing and very little a 'me' thing," Stone said. "I wanted to do this as a team approach."

It's a new era at Iroquois West, after all, as Stone — a 25-year-old Eastern Illinois graduate holding his first head-coaching gig — attempts to rebuild a program that has fallen on tough times, most recently back-to-back 1-8 campaigns leading to Matt Wasilewski's resignation as the football team's leader earlier this year. The Raiders have only been to the playoffs once (2006) since winning a Class 2A state championship in 2003.

Stone's staff will include familiar names for followers of Iroquois West football, most predominantly Josh Leonard, a member of the aforementioned state championship team, and Gilman native Jason Thiele.

Stone is adopting a CEO approach to coaching, offering relative autonomy to his defensive coordinator, Thiele, and special teams coordinator Andy Lindo to oversee their respective units.

In fact, Stone, who is pursuing a master's degree at Illinois State, has night classes on Tuesday and Thursdays when his assistants will be charge of practices.

This is all new ground for Stone, whose post-college experience is mostly as an administrator, specifically as the athletic director at Iroquois West Middle School.

He never envisioned entering the coaching fray this early in his professional life.

"Absolutely not," Stone said. "Not in a million years. I don't know if I'm ready, but I'm going to act like I am."

Ever since he landed the top football job at IW in early March, Stone has leaned on advice from trusted confidants like his former high school football coach at Coal City, Lenny Onsen.

Who's the first person he broke the news to? You guessed it — Onsen.

"Well, I'm a head coach now," Stone remembered telling Onsen five months ago.

In their subsequent chats, a familiar refrain has been echoed on the other end of the phone call.

"I told him, 'Be you. Don't try to be somebody you're not. Find what works for you, what sets you apart,'" said Onsen, who retired in 2016 after 17 seasons at the helm of the Coalers, posting a 127-60 record in that span, including a state runner-up finish in Class 4A in 2004. ... "The kids these days, it's really hard to get them to buy in and convince kids that it will be better for the team if you do this. Explaining it to parents can be even harder. It just takes time and patience."

Stone, according to Onsen, might already have a leg up on his competition as he embarks on his first season as a head coach. Stone, who played quarterback at Coal City, had always been a deep thinker. Not able to rely on his physical talents to carry him, Stone had to use his mind instead.

"He always had questions," Onsen said. "How come we do this? What's the reasoning behind that? He wanted to learn why we did things the way we did."

It's that search for answers that has Stone thinking of new ways to fix a sputtering program. Hence, the after-hours garage sessions among the coaches.

Easy solutions, though, are hard to find.

When the Raiders play at Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin for the season opener on Aug. 24, they'll do so with a fledgling roster featuring the influx of 16 freshmen compared to only six seniors and five juniors.

With Stone as the play-caller, some of the pieces in the revamped offense are fitting into place. Junior Tibaldo Alvarez will return at quarterback — although he'll be asked to do more with read option and triple option concepts in the playbook. Nolan Ahlden will start at running back after being responsible for 490 yards and six touchdowns on 80 carries as a junior last season, with senior Cole Stone (11 catches, 72 yards and a touchdown) as the primary wide receiver.

Although the Raiders will keep a run-first offense — the program has used the I-formation and Wing-T offense in the past — IW is expected to be more multiple this season.

But, as Stone freely admits, it's likely going to take time for the results to show up on the field.

"Ultimately, it's setting the tone for the next couple years. ... This is a process," Stone said. "I am not going to tell you we're going to win right away. I'm not telling you we can't win right away but we're going to do our best to prepare for the future, whether that future is week 5 (of this season) or two or three years from now. We have to build a foundation of success. Commitment is a big thing for us."

IROQUOIS WEST'S 2018 SCHEDULE

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Aug. 24 at BHRA 7 p.m.

Aug. 31 vs. HASAAP 7 p.m.

Sept. 7 at PBL 7 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Momence 7 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Oakwood 7 p.m.

Sept. 28 vs. Seneca 7 p.m.

Oct. 5 at Dwight 7 p.m.

Oct. 12 at Clifton Central 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 vs. Watseka 7 p.m.

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