Hutton: Brad Stewart trying to establish a Lowell-like winner at Kankakee Valley
September 6, 2012 11:26PM
Brad Stewart, Head Coach
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Updated: October 9, 2012 2:47PM
DEMOTTE — Brad Stewart might be the most unremarkable undefeated high school coach left in the state of Indiana.
He is pleasant and accommodating, unassuming and straight-forward and not at all into himself — an unusual trait for many of the football coaches I’ve known over the years.
The Kougars are 3-0 and the scourge of Wheatfield and DeMotte, a community that loves its football.
Stewart is just as happy as the next person about KV’s success, but he, like everyone else, is hungry for more.
“Yeah, I’m a little surprised,” he said of the undefeated start. “It just never feels like it’s enough. I can’t say I’m on cloud nine. I felt like we had the possibility for a good year after we played 10 sophomores and a freshman last year. We just needed to get good leadership.”
It’s not just Stewart that is hungry for more, it’s all of KV that is hungry for more. They’ve been ravenous for decades.
The Kougars have hired and, in many cases, fired 10 coaches since the 1985 season. They have had the one-year guys, like Sean Torney in 2002 (4-7), the two-year guys, like current athletic director Doug Greenlee 1999-2000 (2-8 and 4-7), the three-year guys like Bob Prescott 2003-2005 (16-16) and the eight-year guys like Shawn McDowell (36-41). KV is a place that has always fancied itself as a football school that was never really that good at football. McDowell went 7-3 in 1993 and Mike Peo went 8-2 in 2006 but his only memorable win that season was against Rensselaer.
The revolving door of coaches was never a comforting thought for an outsider looking in, wondering about the school board’s reputation for meddling and micro-managing. Stewart’s hire almost never happened when KV offered him a one-year contract after Peo left. Stewart, who had been Lowell’s defensive coordinator under Kirk Kennedy, had come to work for Peo in the same capacity after Kennedy left for Bloomington South. He had worked for free and he had even continued the offseason weight lifting program when the school didn’t have a coach. He felt like both the kids and he deserved more security from a place that had a history of wearing out coaches.
His stubbornness paid off and now no one is complaining about the extra two seasons or last year’s 2-8 record. Tonight, they expect a full-house crowd.
There is a definite Lowell feel to the way KV is beating up on teams with a bruising running game. The Kougars racked up 572 yards rushing against Rensselaer in a 49-39 victory over their archrival. So far, Tyler Birky has run 572 yards. Stewart admits he has virtually nothing to do with the offense. He imported assistants from his Lowell days to help him with that.
What he did do was institute a strict standard of participation in offseason workouts to earn a meaningful spot on the team. It’s no different than what any coach at any successful program does today — it’s just something that wasn’t always easily executed at KV.
He personally has been able to devote a huge chunk of time to making sure all the details are ironed out before the kids hit the practice field. He retired from teaching at Lowell when he took the job. Stewart said he figures he spends 50 hours a week on his coaching duties, making it seem more like a full-time job.
In so many ways, the marriage between Stewart and the KV community has worked out better than anyone could’ve imagined.
He saw an early 90s Lowell community when he took over. The Red Devils were perfectly awful before Kennedy took over — and it took him a few years to drive his message of dedication, discipline and devotion to the running game home. It also took Kennedy time to win over a skeptical fan base — one that was certain of what they wanted, a winning football program — but divided and unsure of how to get there.
Kennedy’s consistent, calm approach eventually won everyone over.
“I felt like Kirk was able to bring that community together,” Stewart said. “I think there was some conflict here but I think people are coming together.”
Winning will do that for a team and a coach. Stewart knows the whole situation can change with one key injury or an inexplicable string of unfortunate breaks.
For now, though, it’s all good — which is all anyone can really ask for.