Fittest Loser writer: Look no further than high school for inspiration

  • Dick Quagliano, Daily Herald sports reporter, with high schoolers Jeremiah Pittman, center, and Jack Walsh at Ost Field in Palatine, where they have played football.

    Dick Quagliano, Daily Herald sports reporter, with high schoolers Jeremiah Pittman, center, and Jack Walsh at Ost Field in Palatine, where they have played football. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
By Dick Quagliano
Posted5/3/2020 7:00 AM

Being home and having limited access to the outside world these past weeks has been quite difficult. But thanks to technology, at least we can stay in touch.

I called a couple of my former football players this week to catch up with them. I wanted to hear how they are doing because high school and athletics are both shut down due to COVID-19.

 

The pair, Jeremiah Pittman of St. Viator and Jack Walsh of Fremd, are both juniors and considered to be high-level Division 1 football prospects. They played for me in my final year of coaching when they were both seventh graders. I knew they both were going to be great high school football players and if they worked hard, would have a solid opportunity to play college football.

They have done just that.

Pittman, who is 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, is a defensive end and a three-year starter for Viator. He has nearly 20 D-1 offers right now, including Northwestern, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois, which just offered him last week.

Walsh is 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds. He has played offensive tackle the last two seasons for Fremd and is projected to be a guard or center in college. He has an offer from Wyoming and interest from Big 10, Big 12 and MAC schools.

Both were working out at least five days per week at their respective school weight rooms before Gov. Pritzker closed all schools in March. Since that time, they have had to be creative in getting themselves ready for what they hope will be football in the fall.

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Pittman has a bench in his garage and dumbbells and is working out daily. He has a track across the street from his house and has been running and doing ladders to improve his footwork.

"I am still making weight and strength gains," Pittman said. "I am just trying to do what I can. I am on my team's leadership council and just trying to make sure everyone is lifting. It is easier with social media because we can talk at a moment's notice. I am trying to keep guys on track and figuring ways to make things happen."

Walsh also has a set up in his garage with equipment and free weights to use. He also works on his footwork and hits a blocking shield that his father, John, holds for him.

"It's been hard, but not impossible," Walsh said. "I haven't skipped a beat. I have been talking to teammates and on Zoom calls with them."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Walsh has encouraged his teammates, asking them to work out and trying to keep things positive. "We want to be ready to get going together as soon as the stay-at-home order is lifted," he said.

Not only is it heartening to see guys I coached have these great opportunities in front of them, but that they also have the drive to succeed in what is a difficult time for all.

When I began the Fittest Loser Challenge just over 11 weeks ago, one of my goals was to be able to see my old players and not have them think about me as the old, fat guy. I saw them both this past week when we got together for a few photos and they look great -- any college they go to will be fortunate to have them.

It's crazy. There was a time when I was the guy guiding them to succeed. Now, it is the two of them who are part of my motivation to get to my weight goal and continue a healthier lifestyle.

The Fittest Loser ends in just about a week, but that will not be the end for me. I am striving to be healthy for the rest of my life.

It will take hard work and focus, just what a pair of 17-year-old high school kids are showing me.

It is a great thing when the teacher can learn from his students.

Be safe.

• Dick Quagliano coached youth football for 32 seasons and has been a freelance high school sports writer for more than 40 years, the last seven with the Daily Herald. In addition, he maintains a full-time day job as a packaging salesman. He and his wife Debi have two adult sons, Michael and Anthony.

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