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Article updated: 1/29/2013 9:50 PM

By design, Bellecomo will direct the action at Vernon Hills

By Joe Aguilar

Those football plays that li'l Bill Bellecomo used to carve in his yard are long gone. They left an indelible mark, however.

"My old man used to catch me in the back yard drawing them up in the dirt," Bellecomo, Ray Bellecomo's boy, said with a laugh.

Not that Bellecomo will draw up a play from his boyhood days when he directs Vernon Hills' football team in the fall. But suffice it to say, he will draw on experience, from his days as a kid, to his days as a football player at Willowbrook High, to his years as an assistant coach studying under three highly successful high school head coaches.

"Football has always been my passion," Bellecomo said. "I remember as a young kid drawing up plays. You'd play Madden when you were a kid, and I always had the coach's mentality. When I looked at things, I was always analyzing."

Which explains why Bellecomo has always taught line play, both offensive and defensive, in his 14 years at Vernon Hills. He took his cue from former Addison Trail head coach Paul Parpet.

"Coach Parpet told me a long time ago, if you want to understand this game, you got to coach the offensive line," Bellecomo said. "So the men up front have always been my passion, and I've never wanted to stray from that."

That won't change now that Bellecomo is Vernon Hills' new head football coach. His official hiring Tuesday night capped a long process that started before Christmas break and included a second interview after the break. He replaces Tony Monken, whose desire to watch his strong-armed son Anthony wing the football his senior year for Libertyville as the reason for his resignation.

Bellecomo becomes just the second head football coach in Vernon Hills history.

"I'm ecstatic," Bellecomo, 42, said. "This couldn't be a better opportunity from an administration standpoint and from a community standpoint. A lot of the guys we have on staff have been here since the school opened so they, including myself, have a lot invested in the program."

Bellecomo has kayak-sized coaching shoes to fill. Despite a 2-7 campaign in 2012, Monken was 22 games over .500 in 13 seasons and guided the Cougars to the state playoffs nine times. Vernon Hills reached the state quarterfinals twice.

"Tony and I will always be friends," Bellecomo said. "He allowed me to do a lot of things within the program, and he was just a great mentor for me. When this time came (to become a head coach), I felt ready because of the responsibility he gave me. He allowed me to do my thing."

Since those days when he played around in his back yard, Bellecomo always wanted to become a head coach. The 1988 Willowbrook grad did his student-teaching at Carbondale under John Helmick, who won a Class 3A state championship at Metamora. After finishing up his studies at Southern Illinois University, where he earned both his undergraduate degree (heath education) and masters (reading specialist), he coached three years at Addison Trail under Parpet, who coached 28 years and twice guided the Blazers downstate.

When Vernon Hills opened its doors in 1999, Bellecomo came aboard as the school's reading specialist and became the offensive and defensive line coach under Monken.

"That's like a grad-school program for football," Bellecomo said of working under Helmick, Parpet and Monken. "The consistent thing that I learned from all three guys is that it's about relationships with kids and developing those relationships. I took a little from each one. They've been my mentors."

Bellecomo is grateful, too, for the opportunity to learn from Bob Monken, Tony's dad and a hall-of-fame coach. Bob Monken helped Tony during his initial years at Vernon Hills.

"To be around that guy and soak up his knowledge was unbelievable," Bellecomo said. "I followed him around everywhere."

Bellecomo feels lucky to have what he calls a "strong and supportive" administration team, and what will also help him in his new position is his coaching staff. The band wasn't completely broken up, after all. Greg Stilling will still be calling the defense, and the Cougars will still run a 3-4 flex.

Corey Atwell will continue in his role as offensive coordinator, and Bellecomo says his team will continue to be an option team.

"Within our system, we'll make some subtle changes," Bellecomo said. "We got to look at our personnel, and that's something we've been talking about here as clinic season is coming -- what changes can we make to fit our personnel within our system."

For Bellecomo, a dream has been realized. But the guy with the blue-collared work ethic won't change who is he just because he has a new job title. He'll just continue to work hard.

And like his predecessor, whose two little boys, Anthony and Thomas, used to roam the sidelines during the early years of Vernon Hills football, Bellecomo wants his own small kids to be a part of the experience, with wife Heidi's approval obviously.

Alexis is 8. Allison is 6.

"I'll get them involved in the program, though," Bellecomo said with a laugh. "They live for Friday nights."

So does their daddy.

jaguilar@dailyherald.com

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