St. Rita football coach Todd Kuska won the 100th game of his career on Friday night. In 11 seasons with the Mustangs, his teams have put together a 100-40 record, reached the playoffs nine times and won a state championship in 2006.
This season, St. Rita is off to another great start, as it's undefeated through three games and ranked No. 3 in ESPNChicago.com's poll. On Tuesday, Kuska took time out from preparing for this week's game with Fenwick to talk about his milestone and the past and present of his program.
Scott Powers: Does 100 wins have any significance to you?
Todd Kuska: Other than being a milestone, not really. It felt like any game. There's not much significance. I'm sure 20 to 30 years from now it could, but really not now.
SP: Your only losing season came in your first one. What do you remember about that year?
TK: The first season, it was a long one. I think we were just trying to get set a little bit. I was a young guy. I had only been at St. Rita for two previous years to that. I had coached in college [as an assistant at St. Xavier] before, but not as the head coach. We were trying to figure out what kind of team we wanted to be. St. Rita had always had a great program and a winning tradition. We wanted to see what kind of mark we were going to set with our guys.
SP: What changed after that first season?
TK: I think we started as coaches to focus more on what we needed to do to get better at as a team. We needed to get better use of our time. Instead of having longer practices, [we decided that] the more we accomplished in a shorter period of a time would be better for us. We tried to get better at the fundamental things.
SP: What do you remember most about your state championship season?
TK: The thing that stands out after the game is seeing all of our fans and alumni coming back to the school and to have 2,000 people pack the gym at 1 or 2 a.m. It left a mark on the level of support we got from everyone.
SP: Who's the best player you've ever coached?
TK: That's a tough question. Can you give a tie? Productivity-wise, I would say Matt Conrath on the defensive side, would say Wade Weyer on the offensive side. Matt Conrath, he starts at Virginia now, was a senior three-technique tackle who had more than 100 tackles. That was an obscene number for a tackle to have. Wade Weyer rushed for over 2,000 yards his junior year. For three years, he was a major weapon on the offensive side. He's still the leading rushing here at St. Rita. Those guys were also great leaders and brought everyone up and challenged them to play at their level.
SP: What sort of player is enjoyable for you to coach?
TK: I think the guys who want to come in and learn about football. Not just how to do something, but why to do it. Guys who really invest time into it, [who] don't just don't know what to do [but] know why you're doing it and understand what the result is going to be if you do it correctly. Those are the kids [who] want to be challenged, and they trust you, and they trust their teammates. A majority of all our kids are like that, and that's why it's so much fun to coach here.
SP: What do you hope a player takes away from this program when he's done?
TK: What I say all the time is it's not just about championships and trophies and accolades. It's about the lessons you learn, the team, the camaraderie, the unity. This 2009 team is going to be their team forever. No one can take that away from them. That's set in stone. It's not just winning, but what you get out of it. The friendships, the bonds, they will have forever.
SP: How do you feel about this team after three games?
TK: Pretty good. We're getting better. We didn't play as well as we wanted at Portage (Ind.) in Week 1. We came back and played a little bit better against Morris. We came out on Friday night in a rivalry game, huge atmosphere, and we played well. You don't want to peak in Week 3 and Week 4. You want to charge upward and get better as the season goes along. I like where we are now, but there is room to get better.
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.