Few would call Eastern Illinois University the Yale of the Midwest.
Yet 2003 Glenbard East graduate Nick Kray, with merely one stop in between, went from starting college as a Panthers walk-on defensive end to his current position as Yale football coach Tony Reno's right-hand man, the Bulldogs' second-year director of football operations.
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"Your whole life is an itinerary," Kray said Monday from New Haven, Conn., after a 13-hour day.
As a youngster at Glenbard East working for an Ivy League football program wasn't on Kray's radar. Inspired by Rams freshman and sophomore coaches Will Lepsi and Kevin Carlson, Kray eventually figured he wanted to be a high school teacher and coach. His studies at Eastern Illinois -- a physical education major with minors in drivers education and health studies -- prepared him for that.
In 2007 Kray ended his college playing days as a team captain and special teams hotshot and rolled right into coaching Panthers defensive ends the next two seasons. It was under Eastern defensive coordinator Rock Bellantoni that Kray saw the joy and excitement in the college game. Due to an Eastern contact who gravitated to Villanova's staff, Kray likewise moved east to serve as a 'Nova offensive and special teams assistant from 2009-10.
"At that point I still wanted to be in the coaching lifestyle," said Kray, 28 and single.
Through a connection between Villanova and Yale, this current opportunity arose. Kray was hired as Bulldogs director of football operations in August 2012.
"It really was a blessing in disguise," he said.
College students almost unanimously say their greatest adjustment to college life is time management. Managing college students takes that up a notch. When, for example, Kray hosts a recruit on an official visit, everything from arrival to departure is scripted to the minute.
"I have 48 hours to show them what Yale University is all about," Kray said.
Postgame meals, bed checks, summer camps, hotel relations, 10 p.m. snacks. assisting graduate assistants, pairing freshmen with sophomore mentors (like Glenbard West graduate Andrew Larkin), travel schedules -- this and more comprise Kray's job description. Perfection is the goal, to minute degrees such as ensuring dining room chairs are spaced widely enough to accommodate the Bulldogs' biggest offensive linemen.
"Coach Reno said I'd be a man of many hats," Kray said. "He wasn't lying."
Like a football official or baseball umpire, this is a job where silence is the ultimate compliment. Problems are a given. Solving them without panic, while the program proceeds unaware, must be as well.
"Nothing's better than when you have an away trip and everything runs smooth," Kray said. "And you get a win."
Husky heads the pack
Always nice to be pleasantly surprised. Like hearing that Lake Park graduate Lindsay Flanagan was the first female finisher at the 17th annual Chicago Half-Marathon last Sunday.
Flanagan, who runs at the University of Washington along with younger sister Kaylee, finished the distance in 1 hour, 16 minutes, 36 seconds. It was her first half-marathon, so she can put that "13.1" sticker on her car. The runner up was Kristen Heckert of Lisle, a former Murray State and University of Illinois-Chicago runner out of Kaneland High School.
Mat men unite
Last Saturday some 130 wrestlers, coaches and mat aficionados, present but mainly past, took over the Chicago Marriott Naperville to celebrate a Wheaton Central-Wheaton Warrenville South wrestling reunion. This writer stopped by the Naper Ballroom, but being a sissy basketball player back in the day, slunk out before being spotted and full-Nelsoned.
That was a mistake because it was tons of fun, according to Tigers wrestling alumni Bruce Garner and Steve Ewoldt, who organized the event with Steve Knippen, a pair of 1980s-era wrestlers.
Highlights included the appearance of six of the seven living coaches since Tigers wrestling was originated by the late Don S. Garner in 1948. Nearly all of the 1966 state runner-up squad showed, led by that team's coach Ed Ewoldt, the state wrestling historian who in 2001 was honored by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum for lifetime service. The 1966 team also sponsored the current WW South wrestlers, so they showed up en masse with coach Matt Janosek.
Off the top of his head, Steve Ewoldt said alumni came from Florida, Texas, Montana, Washington, Virginia and California. George Murray, of the Class of 1970, flew in from Iraq where he works. Even team managers, statisticians and the wrestling cheerleaders once known as "mat maids" attended. A couple men arrived who had wrestled for Wheaton Community High in the 1950s.
"It was nice timing with the Olympic ruling (to bring wrestling back in 2020)) the next day, too," Steve Ewoldt said.
Speaking of Tigers reunions, baseball coach Tim Brylka is spreading the word about the fifth annual WW South alumni baseball game. It'll be held at the school at 2 p.m. Oct. 5 to coincide with WW South homecoming weekend. Email Brylka for a roster spot at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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