By Dominic Ferrucci
When the Guerin Catholic Golden Eagles take the field on Friday, August 19th against the McCutchen Mavericks they will do so behind second year starting quarterback Ryan Zimmerman and a plethora of returners on both sides of the ball. Last years’ leading rusher Justin Zdobylak will headline the ground attack with a pair of seniors in Max Cossell and Brendan McIlvenna to run behind, while standout receiver Will Fremion spearheads a talented and experienced receiving core. On the defensive side of the ball, the secondary will be aided with the return of senior Luke Moody, who missed five games last year due to injury, while returning starter Joe Youngman joins him in the backend. The second level of the defense will be senior heavy as well as Jonathon Gonzalez and Anthony Ferrucci were the two top tacklers to return from a season ago. Up front will be a spot of youth for the Golden Eagles as Junior Elijah Taylor, who ranked 5th on the team with four tackles for loss last year is complemented by sophomore Miles McGreal. With this being said, a team is nothing without their head coach, and come that third Friday night in August, Tom Dilley will lead the troops out for his 9th year donning the Purple and Gold. I sat down with Coach Dilley to hear his story from playing division I baseball at Ball State to now, his 23rd season as a head football coach.
During his college years, Tom Dilley was focused on getting hitters out, pitching for the Ball State Cardinals in the spring. During the summer months, though, Dilley was out on the football field, helping his former coaching staff at Penn High School in any way that he could. Coach Dilley noted the influence his coaching staff had on him, headlined by three members of the Indiana Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame (Head Coach Chris Geesman, Defensive Coordinator Don Monahut, and Offensive Line and Dilley’s Head Baseball Coach Chuck Wegner). The rich tradition of Penn High School Football speaks for itself, and look no further for a beneficiary than Dilley. He won a state title with the Kingsman in 1983 and would later go onto win more state titles as an assistant for his alma mater. The championships, along with his state title as the head coach at Bishop Chatard, helped Coach Dilley become the first coach in Indiana High School football history to win a state title as a player, assistant coach and head coach. So how did Dilley make the transition from baseball to football look so seamless? Those summer months on the field certainly helped, but Dilley also credited his time as a college athlete to assisting in relating to his players, something that has been important to Coach Dilley for years. On that note, I asked Dilley if it has been hard transitioning from school to school throughout his coaching career. With stops at Bishop Chatard and Lawrence North at the high school level and Butler University for a year prior to taking the Guerin Catholic job, I would have assumed that each school presented its own challenges adapting. But Coach Dilley explained that the team has been a family at each and every stop, something most especially prevalent at Guerin Catholic where his two daughters have been team managers. The shared experience with his family is one that is unique to Coach Dilley’s story and it will be extra special come Guerin Catholic’s senior night when his youngest daughter is honored as team manager.
From an outsider’s perspective, coaching, family time, and other commitments seem overwhelmingly difficult to balance. Throw in teaching during the school day, and one might be hard pressed to find a busier man than Coach Dilley during the fall months. So how might one balance all these commitments? First, Coach Dilley was quick to note having an understanding spouse helps, and that making it home in time for family dinner put a limit on the amount of film watching that one could have. The invention of “Huddle” cannot be overlooked either making it possible to watch film at home, but where Dilley has found success lies in his preparation. Both in the classroom and in the film room, preparation makes life easier come the hectic moments that the football season inevitably brings. Certainly years of experience has helped Coach Dilley learn the delicate balance, but that learning does not stop there. Coach explained that he has “never been to a practice where he didn’t learn something.” I was at first amazed upon hearing this; 23 years of coaching and still learning on the job? But after reflecting on our time together and from my experience as a player under Coach Dilley, his sentiment makes sense. Football is a game that teaches life lessons beyond what can be taught in drills on the practice field or in four 12 minute quarters under the lights on Friday night. It is a game that bounds you to teammates and coaches for years, something Coach Dilley feels very fondly about. Just recently he emailed those three former Penn Coaches to explain how much they have meant to him, so much so that he finds himself uncanninly imitating their words and actions to this day. The bond is certainly felt at Guerin Catholic where former players like myself and Nick Szymczak ‘20 are welcomed and accepted at summer practices. Szymczak, now helping coach his former position of defensive line before returning to school, had this to say about the family dynamic and what he learned under Coach Dilley. “The biggest takeaway…was learning that everything was earned. My respect was earned. My trust from teammates and coaches was earned. But most importantly my love for the game was earned…” Szymczak referred to this love as an obsession and sees it as his responsibility to relay the importance of having a passion for the game to Guerin Catholic’s current leaders. He continued, “Every drill, every meeting, every game. Set that example as a leader and earn everything.” A credit to Nick, who was a pretty darn good high school player himself, for passing on his wisdom, but the way he explained how his love for the game evolved is what Coach Dilley finds most fulfilling about coaching. “Seeing guys evolve into something that they would not have been without the program.” And as a result of that philosophy and goal, players like Szymczak feel right at home at their alma mater, much like Coach Dilley’s experience himself.
A big thank you to Coach Dilley for taking the time to meet with me prior to his season kicking off and for the lessons he taught me and my teammates. I look forward to providing written coverage throughout the year for Indiana SRN and bringing you stories across the greater Indianapolis area; stories that capture the impact of sports and what they mean to athletes, coaches, and the community.