ROMEOVILLE – Bret Kooi will be the first to admit that he definitely enjoyed himself during the past three football seasons.
Although not serving as a head coach for the first time since 1993, Kooi was excited to assist his brother Bert at Minooka in 2011 and then his friend, George Czart, at Lincoln-Way North in 2012 and 2013.
But when Lemont’s top spot came open after Eric Michaelsen’s move to become the principal at his alma mater, Kooi threw his name into the mix and was hired in February.
Not surprisingly, Kooi quickly went to work to follow up on the great success Michaelsen and his staff have built at Lemont. The Indians went 106-33 in 12 seasons, which were capped by second-place finishes in Class 6A in 2007 and 2008.
For someone with 20 years of experience as a head coach, including a successful 17-year run at Lockport, Kooi said he has the same enthusiasm as when he joined Matt Senffner’s staff at Providence almost 30 years ago or at his first head coaching job in 1989 at Joliet West.
At last week’s 7-on-7 at Romeoville, Kooi talked briefly about the past, including coaching the Porters from 1994 through 2010, when his teams went 105-69 with back-to-back Class 8A championships in 2002 and 2003.
But he spent more time focusing on the present as well as the future and the exciting possibilities that he sees for Lemont’s program.
“I wouldn’t have gone for this position if it was something that I didn’t think that I wanted to do or I felt that I couldn’t handle,” Kooi said. “I still feel good enough and I think that I have one more good run in me. This is my 30th year of coaching, but I don’t feel that old, which is a good thing.”
Kooi is quick to praise his new assistant coaches, most who worked under Michaelsen or have ties to the program, as making things run smoothly.
“Compliments to the coaches here for making it such an easy transition,” Kooi said. “Obviously, Eric did things the right way and they had success, so I’m smart enough to know that I shouldn’t change things. The biggest blessing has been to have a staff of quality, hard-working guys who are already here and they’ve been so receptive to me.
“John Coneset has done a phenomenal job with the strength program, and in the weight room and John Howell helps him with that and also does the defense. Dave LaBarbera has also been a part of the staff, and Willie Hayes played here, so you have the alumni coming back and I feel that we have an awesome receivers coach in Brent Gagnon. I’ve been a part of things where guys were all pulling on the rope together and when you have that, good things can happen.”
Although Kooi might not possess all-state quarterbacks like he did at Lockport, he likes how Chris Thompson and Ryan Dawson are progressing. Also, he feels that he has a group of receivers that could match some of those he had with the Porters.
“We’re starting to figure it out,” Kooi said of this year’s offense. “Every time that we come out here to a 7-on-7, we’re getting a little bit better. And every time that both quarterbacks step on the field, they’re getting better.
“I can’t believe that I would ever get to say this, but these guys have a chance to be as good, if not the best group of all of the receivers that I’ve had. And when you’re talking about George Kadlec, Zach Lammers and Adam Decaire, that group was pretty talented.”
Kooi will rely on his defensive coaches to do their thing and with good speed on that side of the ball, he expects positive results from that unit.
“Defensively, that’s all new to me so all that I can do is listen to the other coaches,” Kooi said. “But they talk about our team speed as being very good and obviously I see that. I see that they don’t have the big D-I lineman like they’ve had, so defensively, we’ll hang our hats on being quick and flying to the ball and causing turnovers, which I think our coaches do a great job of coaching up.”
It should come as no surprise for those who know Kooi to hear that he jumped right in after getting his new job and has been on the go ever since.
“You know me, the second that I got approved by the board, I was in the weight room and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Kooi said. “Some of the kids looked at me like I was a little crazy since I still get after it in the room. But it’s no different than when I was a 20-year old at Providence or a 30-year old at Lockport. Now I’m 50 years old, and I’m doing the same thing. I feel that it keeps me young and that it energizes the kids.”