The makings of a coach

By Owen Zimmerman, Staffer

Huntley’s beloved football and track coach Michael Naymola has always had a love for athletics. As he aged his passion for sports and the strategy that went into them only grew, specifically for the game of football. Naymola played highschool football at Rolling Meadows, his head coach being Doug Millsaps, and had his position coach in Tony Wolsnaki.

Naymola was greatly influenced by both Millsaps and Wolsnaki in different ways. Millsaps taught him the importance of enjoying the game and having relationships with those you work with while Wolsnaki, being very detail-oriented, led Naymola to see the true depth the game had and the importance small details had when trying to accomplish your goals in the sport.

“[Wolsnaki] wouldn’t let our deficiencies limit us because he wanted to make our weaknesses our strengths, or at least less of a weakness. And that’s why I appreciate him, he taught me a lot about the game at a young age and not only about playing the game in general but how important the details were,” Naymola said.

In 1998 Naymola was placed on the varsity football team at Rolling Meadows. Millsaps, in his second year coaching at the school, began to turn the program around. While playing under Millsaps, Naymola noted that he learned more about the game than he did beforehand. He was also given a starting role on the team which allowed him to apply the lessons he had learned from Wolsnaki.

After graduating high school, Naymola attended Rockford College, now Rockford University, and joined the football program, which was in its first year. Naymola’s wide receiver coach BJ Robertson helped him understand the evolution of the game at the college level. Robertson was also a great motivator and unleashed a self-confidence and drive in Naymola that he had not felt beforehand.

“While coaching and training his enthusiasm and energy [Robertson] was able to get stuff out of me that I didn’t know was there, and it made me such a better football player in college,” Naymola said.

During Naymola’s freshman year there were 73 other freshmen on the roster and the team struggled, going 1-9 in the 2000-01 season. However, during their early struggles a mentality formed at Rockford, it was an idea of dedication and commitment to the game and that success must be earned and not expected. 

“You should do the right thing, you should show up on time, you should work hard because it’s your job. And you shouldn’t expect anything more than what you are willing to earn. That’s the kind of mentality that we took into Rockford,” Naymola said.

By Naymola’s senior year only 12 of the original freshmen remained and the ideology that had formed was showing benefits. Rockford opened up the season with a 105-0 win over Trinity Bible. Naymola had 2 receptions for 84 yards and 2 touchdowns, a stat line that resembled Randy Moss’s rookie year performance against the Cowboys. 

Rockford finished 7-3 in the 2003-04 season, a far cry from the 1-9 record 4 years prior. Naymola has placed on the 2003 Upper Midwest Athletic Conference 2nd team all wide receiver. These results should only cement the confidence in the benefits of a culture of hard work. 

Following Naymola’s college career he began to coach the game of football, returning to Rolling Meadows to become a wide receiver coach under Millsaps. Naymola learned aspects of coaching from Millsaps, just as he had taken facets of the game from him. Millsaps taught Naymola to enjoy the process of coaching, as there are countless hours of preparation that go into it.

“It can take a toll on you if you’re not having a good time while coaching, he kept it loose in a way where we didn’t dread going into work. He made game days fun. I will always remember this about him, we would work hard all week and when it finally came to the game day we put that work to use and enjoy the Friday nights- that was one thing I learned from him, enjoy the game as much as a spectator,” Naymola said.

Naymola also looked back on lessons from coach Robertson when coaching. As Robertson allowed him to help the younger receivers improve their talents and develop at the college level, something Naymola could utilize when coaching.

Naymola took a great amount of information from coach Hart, who was coaching the Huntley football team when Naymola first arrived. Hart enlightened Naymola to more than just the technical aspects of the game, he showed him how to build a program, the qualities to look for when hiring an assistant coach, and how to prepare when getting ready for game day or the playoffs. What Naymola valued most was Hart’s ability to show his players that he cared for them and the development of relationships.

“He was the best person I’ve ever been around in terms of developing relationships, getting to know them, and showing players that he cared about them. He would go the extra mile to make sure the kids knew that, and in turn, they would want to play harder for him. And ultimately when you get that player-coach relationship you end up having a lot more success in football,” Naymola stated.

All four of the coaches that had impacted Naymola helped him enter and excel in the world of coaching. As he learned to value different traits from all of them. Naymola also gave his point of view on the popular question of team culture.

“It can’t be about winning and losing when you’re trying to develop cultures, it has to be about acting right, doing the right thing. It has to be player-led in a way where your players, whether they’re freshmen or seniors, they have to abide and live up to certain standards, in the classroom, weight room, and on the field- when you get your players to start buying into those standards the program starts to run itself,” Naymola said.

Naymola also recounted advice for student-athletes looking for success, firmly believing that being successful in the classroom and also keeping your options open while also being completely committed when it comes to sports is a good path. Naymola believes that participating in multiple sports would help most develop greatly, as it makes them develop into a better all-around athlete. He also believes that commitment is essential, as players who do not truly put in the effort are doing a disservice to themselves and all those around them.

Football gave Naymola much more than his coaching experience, it also led him to meet his wife Karen, the head volleyball coach at Huntley, when he took the job at Huntley high school. The game led him to have the opportunity to be a stepfather to Karen’s daughters Abby and Izzy and allowed him to become the father to his daughter Kylie.

“It has given me my whole world in the form of my family,” Naymola said.

Naymola has had a long journey in the world of athletics, and the traits and values he has picked up from his mentors have helped him develop into the great coach he is today. The value he takes in relationships with his athletes and students cannot be understated and can be seen through the success of his programs.