Although former Warren Township High School football star Matt Van Daele is far from home, he has remained close to the football world. He’s now the new head coach at Seven Springs Middle School in Trinity, Fla.
But it’s clear this Jaguars team knows next to nothing about his playing days at Warren High School. Van Daele is a graduate of the 2001 class and he clearly left his mark.
Retired head coach Dave Mohapp has fond memories of Van Daele. Like the game in the fall of 2000 when Van Daele took control of the Warren offense following an injury to the starting quarterback.
“It was our last game of the year against Lake Forest,’’ Mohapp recalled. “And we had the game in hand. We just wanted Matt to throw a boot pass and eat up the clock. Instead, he goes around the corner for 70 yards and a touchdown. We looked the film later and saw that at least eight players had a chance to tackle him on that play. Matt was a phenomenal player. It’s not often that you get to coach a kid like that.”
Actually the run measured 75 yards in this 40-20 win. Van Daele gobbled up 277 yards that day.
Warren athletic director Mark Pos was the team’s trainer when Van Daele arrived on campus. He, too, recalled this special player.
“He was one of the best athletes and best people we’ve had at Warren,’’ Pos said. “He played the game so hard. He was a phenomenal player. He wasn’t very big, but he was the heart and soul of those teams. He was an unbelievable leader.”
Van Daele is a behavior specialist at the middle school and clearly recalls his days at Warren High School. He acknowledged he had some good days playing football at Warren but remained humble.
“It was interesting looking back,’’ Van Daele said. “If I was arrogant about all of this, my mom and dad would kill me. I knew I was going to college and there were going to be bigger fish in the pond.”
Van Daele began his march to stardom in the second grade.
“I was a lineman growing up,’’ he said. “I played most every position but quarterback. I was lucky when I went to Warren.
“We had a lot of good coaches. In basketball it was coach (Chuck) Ramsey, (Tim) Bowen and Jayson Paulus. In football, we had coach Mohapp and (Rocco) Oddo.”
Pos felt the so-called Van Daele era was a special time at Warren.
“That was really the golden era of football,’’ Pos said. “We really had some good athletes. Matt was fun to be around. He went on the trip as sophomores to see our 1999 basketball team finish second in the state. He just soaked everything up.”
On the football field, Van Daele was introduced to winning as soon as he reached the campus.
“Our freshman year, we went 9-0,’’ Van Daele said. “I was a running back and safety on defense. I don’t think we had a close game. On my basketball team, I think we lost three games as freshmen. I played defense and didn’t really look to score.”
Van Daele earned a promotion to the varsity team as a sophomore. The Blue Devils had a star running back (Dante Daniels) so Van Daele slid into his role as a defender.
“We knew his best position was running back,’’ Mohapp said. “He had great moves. He could change direction. He had very good speed.”
Still, Van Daele had to wait his turn.
“As a junior, I played nine games at safety,’’ he said. “I played a little bit at quarterback and ran the option. I was still more of a defender. We went 6-3 and I remember beating Edwardsville.”
One of those losses in his junior year turned into a win his senior year. Van Daele scored three touchdowns in an early season romp over North Chicago.
Warren was state-ranked by this time. Three weeks earlier, Van Daele and Warren ended a seven-year losing streak to Stevenson by beating the Pats,13-0. Van Daele broke off a 68-yard TD run.
“The other teams could stop him from time to time,’’ Mohapp said. “But he was going to get you.”
Despite his stellar senior year, the undersized Van Daele was not contacted by the major universities.
“I got a lot of Division III letters,’’ he said. “But I liked Valparaiso. It was one of the bigger schools around. And the were still close to home.”
Van Daele coached at Valparaiso before his move to Florida.