New Wheaton Academy interim football coach Brad Thornton grew up in the Chicago area and thought he’d be returning from a stint coaching in Tennessee to be an assistant football coach and English teacher at Wheaton Academy. But when administrators couldn’t find a new head coach with sufficient experience in time for this season, the school turned to the 28-year-old Thornton as interim coach. In this week’s Weekend Chit-chat with Chronicle sports editor Jay Schwab, the Cary-Grove graduate touches base on being an interim coach, ramping up the football culture at Wheaton Academy and the Warriors’ move in 2014-15 from the Suburban Christian Conference to the Metro Suburban. The following is an edited transcript:
What are your first impressions of your new team?
I’ve been excited about the energy and the [enthusiasm] that we’ve had out at the workouts and the few practices that we’ve done. We were talking as a coaching staff [Friday] and one of the things we are really encouraged by is the guys who are there are excited to be there, want to be there and are ready and willing to do the work. … I guess as a coach, there’s not much more you can ask for than that.
What is the most important thing you have found out about the team so far? Has something jumped out at you?
I’m getting a feel for the talent level of the team, the strengths of the team. It’s pretty apparent we have good size up front on the offensive and defensive line and several returning starters on the O and D lines, so that’s popped out at me. That’s a good thing, that’s a strength of the team. We’re going to try and leverage that to our advantage and behind that, we have several skill players returning from last year that will be solid contributors as well.
What kind of base offense and defense are you anticipating running?
We’re going to run a Jet offense or just try to run a lot off Jet motion and Jet sweeps, and then defensively we’re going to run a base 4-3 defense. It’s pretty vanilla right now, but the thing I like about the 4-3 is you can get a lot of variations off it and can adjust the gameplan to what the offense is doing against you.
How is participation looking from a numbers standpoint?
From a numbers standpoint, we’re trying to get more guys out so numbers are OK, they could be better, but … we’re encouraged by what we have out there and the attitudes of the guys, being willing to work. But the culture of Wheaton Academy, we’re working on building a football culture there, I’ll just put it that way. The school has been strong athletically in several sports. … It’s taking some time to build [a football culture].
That interim tag is a unique setup. Do you have aspirations of being head coach, long term?
Long term, yeah, I’d love to be a head coach without the interim tag, so this is a great experience. It was something proposed to me about a month ago given the school was looking to hire a head coach who had head coaching experience, which I didn’t have. They went through a long search, didn’t quite find the right fit, but given the staff coming in and the supporting cast around me, the school felt comfortable tagging me as interim coach for the time being and probably opening the search at the end of the season, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, the team is mine to run, and I’ve enjoyed doing it.
A lot of teams heading to the Metro Suburban have had trouble competing in the SCC, but that’s still the situation for now. What are your thoughts on the conference dynamics?
We know the challenge in front of us, we know the type of competition we’re going to be facing, so we’re going to attack that head on and use that level of competition to get better ourselves. It’s something that is a hard reality to face knowing the type of caliber of team we’re going up against but at the same that’s not going to keep us from going out there and fighting hard.
The last several months there has been a lot of discussion about [the amount of hitting in practice] and the new heat acclimatization policy the IHSA is phasing in. Where do you stand on those issues?
With hitting, that all starts with teaching the fundamentals of tackling. … The heat acclimatization is something that wasn’t around when I was a player here 10 years ago, so I’m getting adjusted to finding out how to do it in August. … The first day we can have five hours of practice is also the first day of school for Wheaton Academy so that presents some challenges as far as scheduling those practices.