When you talk football with Kankakee High School’s new varsity football coach, Derek Hart, you can hear the passion he has for the game in his voice. The 27-year-old Hart grew up in a football household. Hart’s father, John Hart is known as a legend in high school football. The elder Hart has 294 wins and two state titles in Indiana. John Hart also has another 147 wins in Illinois. Hart says of his father, “He’ll probably end up in the Hall of Fame in Illinois and Indiana for high school football. He is successful and won a couple State Championships.”
In 2009, Hart won a state championship at Warren Central High School as a quarterback and continued on to Indiana State. At Huntly High School in Huntly, IL, Hart was the quarterbacks’ coach for a year and the offensive coordinator for three years. Hart then spent a year as Head Coach of the Lions at Edwards County High School in Albion IL, before joining his father as an offensive coordinator for the Brownsburg High School football team in Brownsburg, IN.
When asked how his new coach is doing so far, junior and Kankakee High School’s starting quarterback Tyjaune Stewart said, “Coach Hart’s been doing good, he’s changed a lot from last year. Practice is way smoother. We [are] getting a lot in.” Stewart also touched on the Kay’s upcoming season and said, “I think the season is going to be good, [we will push hard to] make a playoff run and try to make it to state. That’s the goal for this season.”
Country Herald got the chance to sit down with The Kay’s new head coach to discuss his new journey, football, and the Kay’s upcoming season.
What would you say your coaching style is like?
I’m more of a laid-back guy. There [are] obviously successful coaches that yell quite a bit, but I feel I don’t need to yell to get my point across to the kids. I like to have fun. I want the kids to enjoy it. [Be]cause that’s the kind [of coach] as a player that let me enjoy the game. I loved playing football. The coaches that yell the whole time and bark weren’t as enjoyable. I’m more of a laid-back style and calm.
How do you run a typical practice?
We like to be high tempo, but again, I’m not a yeller or screamer. I’m more laid back.
What mistakes have you made in your coaching career, and what were you able to learn from those mistakes?
I think one of the main things is when you first get into [coaching], there is obviouslly learning your personnel and stuff like that. I’ve made mistakes with personnel and put guys in the wrong spot. You kind of learn that stuff quick. But I would say that’s the biggest thing. Then you know, as a coach, if you are thinking you know it all that is the worst kind of coach you can be. Especially in football [because] there is always new stuff going on. New offenses, new defenses, and if you’re not willing to learn ever year then I don’t think you’re maximizing your potential as a coach. So that’s something else early on. You think you know it all. You think you got it. Then as you go you kind of learn that every year there is something else you can do.
What expectations do you have from your team?
Expectations [are] winning, obviously. We want to make the playoffs every year. That’s going to be our goal no matter, talent-wise, where we are at. We are always going to have the goal to make the playoffs. That’s kind of how we teach our kids. There are two seasons, the regular season and the playoffs. We don’t worry about State Championships before the season starts because you’ll never get there. You worry about making the playoffs. Then you worry about State Championships later. So, our goal is always to make the playoffs.
What can your team expect from you as a coach?
Something I’m always going to be [doing], and I think is important, is building relationships with kids. [Be]cause you might not just help them in football. You can help them in life. I think we have some kids like that, you know? They need the extra [support]. I don’t want to say [I’m a] father figure, but they need someone else there to kind of keep them in check with the grades and staying out of trouble. I think building relationships is important in high school football.
How do you intend to handle discipline for off field behavior?
Each issue is different, but we will always handle accordingly. If it’s something in school obviously we will sit down and figure it out. If it is something outside of school, they are representing our program outside of here. I take that very seriously and there will be disciplinary actions if they do something [get into trouble] outside or inside of school. They are representing us as a football program.
How will you manage playing time between players?
At the end of the day the best players are going to play. We put a big emphasis on the off season when I came in January and you can tell the difference between the kids that came every day and the kids that just showed up a couple weeks ago. The kids that showed up in January are [more ready] to play. Whoever is [more ready] to play will be who will play on Friday nights.
How did you or do you expect to gain the trust of your players?
Trust is the main thing. Being truthful with them. Being real with them. I feel like I’ve been that way. I’m going to tell them how it is. If they want to sit down and talk about playing time or whatever else, I’ll sit down and tell them exactly how it is. I think that’s the best way to be coach. I’ll let them know where they’re at. I’ll let them know why they are where they are and what they need to do to get too where they want to go.
How do you intend to create a winning tradition at Kankakee High School?
I go back to the offseason. That is where it really starts. Back in the day in high school football you could show up in the summertime and be the best team in the state. You can’t do that anymore. Especially with the higher 5A, 6A, 7A [teams] you just can’t do that. You [must] put in the work in the weight room and that’s how you build a program. You get in the weight room, you get stronger. I feel the kids are bought in [to the program]. They have that piece and then you [must] win games. You have one good year and then you just role from there.
What role does football play in your life?
I grew up playing football my whole life [since] I was [little]. [Growing up I wanted to be like Ronnie] Wilcox, our athletic director’s, brother because he played quarterback in high school. I was probable five years old and I wanted to be him. I was always around football. I was always around practice. It’s always going to be a part of me. I just love the game. I don’t ever see myself doing anything different. It is what it is. I grew up in [it] and I still have that passion.
Coach Hart will make his debut as the Kankakee Kays head varsity football coach on 8/31/19 against the Thornton Wildcats in Thornton, IL. Don’t miss out on any of the Kays’ games. The regular season schedule is listed below.
8/31/19 @ Thornton 12 p.m.
9/6/19 Crete-Monee 7 p.m.
9/13/19 @ Thornwood 7 p.m.
9/20/19 @ Macomb 7 p.m.
9/27/19 @ Rich South 7 p.m.
10/4/19 Thornridge 7 p.m.
10/11/19 @ Bloom 5:30 p.m.
10/19/19 @ Rich East 12 p.m.
10/25/19 @ Rich Central 7 p.m.