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Tim Zasada, the new Reavis football coach, talks to players after their first practice at the school in Burbank, IL on Wednesday August 8, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Jose Romero and his Reavis teammates had heard it before.
This would be the year that Reavis football would become a player again in the south suburbs, new coach Tim Zasada told Romero and the rest of the Rams.
“At first, they didn’t know [anything] about him,” Romero said. “They pretty much took it the same [as before] and didn’t think anything would work out.”
But now Romero, the Rams’ junior starting quarterback, is a believer. After a rousing 30-20 comeback win over neighborhood rival Argo last Friday, Reavis is sitting at 3-0.
Credit the efforts of playmakers like Romero, who has accounted for 11 passing and rushing touchdowns; senior receiver Kenny Castillo, who already has caught 17 passes for 325 yards and three scores; and two-way senior star Moses Morales, who has 104 receiving yards and 27 tackles.
But most of all, give props to Zasada, who has a special gift for turning around downtrodden football programs. We last saw him at T.F. North, where he took a team that had 12 wins in the 13 seasons before he arrived and went 34-25 with four IHSA playoff berths in six years.
After he stepped away for family reasons after the 2006 season, the Meteors plummeted to 3-15 the next two years. But then Zasada and his defensive coordinator Artie Rogers came back to the sidelines – with Rogers as head coach and Zasada as offensive coordinator – and North rebounded to go 16-13 with two playoff appearances between 2009 and ‘11.
Zasada decided after last season he was ready to take another head coaching job and Reavis gave him a shot. The Rams weren’t in as bad a shape as North had been – under
Dennis Wierzal, they were a state power in the ‘70s and ‘80s with one IHSA title and two runner-up finishes. But they were coming off six losing records in seven seasons, including a pair of 0-9 finishes, and had a 17-game losing streak when Zasada came to town.
His first task was changing the mindset. That was easier to do with opponents than with his own players, at least at the start.
When Reavis went to 7-on-7 passing events over the summer, one coach told Zasada he couldn’t believe the Rams hadn’t won since Week 1 of 2010. His response: “We haven’t played a game yet.”
What he was saying was, yes, the Rams have some talent. But how would they respond to the adversity that had dogged them lately?
“Down against Argo 12-0, you kind of felt like they were thinking, ‘Oh my, here we go again,’” Zasada said. “[But] we settled them at halftime and they exploded in the third quarter.”
Zasada himself is known for his combustibility. He’s a bundle of energy during games, sprinting up and down the sideline, bellowing his approval for a good play, kicking the turf
in frustration at a bad one and keeping up a running conversation with officials, assistant coaches, writers and anyone else in earshot.
“I really have never seen any more energetic person in my life,” Romero said.
Zasada is aware his style is not a fit for every school, which he made sure to point out to Reavis officials.
“When I was in the final interview, [I said], ‘If you’ve never seen me, here’s what you’re going to get. You’re going to embrace it or you’re going to go, ‘This is not the guy we want on our sidelines.’
“I just like having fun.”
On Friday night, Zasada was. He looked out and saw both grandstands full, Argo fans standing two-deep along the fence on the visiting side, Reavis boosters three-deep on the home side. “They’re cheering like it’s a Duke basketball game,” Zasada said.
This is why Zasada is a coach. “There’s a big part of me that enjoys when other coaches say, ‘That’s a graveyard, that’s a death trap. You’re wasting your talents.’
“We’re not going to beat Maine South, no way.”
But the Rams are going to make Friday night lights fun again in Burbank. In fact, they already have.