Prep Zone: Johnsburg coach Mike Maloney won for first time in 32 tries

Johnsburg football coach Mike Maloney always said when the Skyhawks won a football game, and ended its losing streak at whatever number it had reached, that it would be about the players, not about him.

The players were the ones on the field fighting, implementing the coaches’ game plan. The players were the ones lifting the weights and running in the offseason. The players, Maloney said, would be the ones who won the game.

So when Johnsburg put its 25-game losing streak to sleep Friday with a 22-21 triumph at Woodstock North, Maloney thought about his players first.

“I guess relieved would be my feeling,” the second-year Skyhawks coach said. “I was overjoyed for my seniors, the guys who put the time and dedication in for a year and a half and finally saw it materialize on the field.”

As special as it was for the Skyhawks, who had been getting closer and closer to winning, it was a magnificent moment for Maloney as well – it was his first career coaching victory.

For two seasons at Joliet Township, Maloney’s teams were 0-18. His first season at Johnsburg, the Skyhawks were 0-9. Then, they lost their first four games this season.

Maloney won a state championship as a defensive lineman with Joliet Catholic. He played in a Sugar Bowl for Illinois. The man obviously knows football, yet in his chosen profession, he was 0-31. That has to weigh on a coach’s mind a little bit. You can coach and preach and teach what you believe in, but there have to be some nights when you wonder what you’re doing out there.

“He’s a very positive guy,” Johnsburg defensive coordinator Sam Lesniak said. “He’s charismatic. He never measures success in wins and losses. The life lessons the players learn from him through the season are incredible. You can only have so many moral victories before you need to get one in the ‘Win’ column.”

Grayslake North coach Steve Wood, whose state-ranked team held off Johnsburg, 21-13, the previous week, knows all too well what Maloney is experiencing. Wood took over North when the school opened in 2006.

“We were 1-26 in our first three years, a brand new program,” Wood said. “I know Johnsburg’s been around for decades, but you know what? As far as starting over, they were starting over. It’s bare. I don’t ever want him to beat us, but the bottom line is [Maloney] is a good guy and he’s done a great job.”

The Skyhawks wanted to win for the seniors, whose class had not seen a varsity football victory since their freshman year. But they wanted it for Maloney, the man who eagerly came here two years ago and laid out his plan in Johnsburg’s auditorium for everyone, too.

“We played for our seniors and we played for [Maloney],” junior quarterback Nick Brengman said. “We totally respect our coach. We know how much effort he’s put in for us. We wanted to make him proud and get the win for him.”

Senior tight end-linebacker Ben Stillwell agreed the players have the utmost respect for Maloney.

“We kind of joked in our locker room that he was cursed [with no coaching victories],” Stillwell said. “He’s definitely a good coach. It was awesome to do it for him. It was very humbling. As much as we wanted it for ourselves, it was great to get it for him too. It was great to see him hugging his assistants and his family after the game.”

Maloney felt some personal satisfaction along with his relief Friday, but he’s a football coach, so his mind was flashing through so many other things.

“I’m so happy we won, but there’s a very small window to enjoy that because I’m always thinking about what we need to go to get better,” Maloney said. “I’m thinking about all the mistakes we made and still won. I felt like we should have played better. That’s the way I’ve been since I picked up a football helmet. That’s still kind of in me. I love the win and enjoy seeing a plan come to fruition, but I’m still looking at how we can improve as well.”

• Joe Stevenson is a senior sports writer for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached by email at joestevenson@shawmedia.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @nwh_JoePrepZone.