Dundee-Crown coach Mike Steinhaus uses tight end Justin Prusko to help teach a pass route during practice July 8 in Carpentersville. Prusko recently committed to Southeast Missouri State.
Dundee-Crown coach Mike Steinhaus uses tight end Justin Prusko to help teach a pass route during practice July 8 in Carpentersville. Prusko recently committed to Southeast Missouri State. — Gregory Shaver for Shaw Media

Justin Prusko appreciates when Dundee-Crown football coach Mike Steinhaus closely scrutinizes his practice performances.

Prusko knows any criticism will not only help for his upcoming senior season, but beyond.

“Basically, if I screw something up in practice, he lets me know what it’s going to be like playing (NCAA) Division I football,” Prusko said. “If I’m not putting in maximum effort, he lets me know that I’m better and what kind of athlete I am.”

Steinhaus knows because he played D-I football as a tight end at Ball State. Prusko, a tight end-defensive end for the Chargers, will find out, as he committed last month to play at D-I Southeast Missouri State, a Football Championship Subdivision school in Cape Girardeau.

“I don’t know if it’s critical or not, but I just tell him the truth,” Steinhaus said. “I’d rather have someone help me out and explain what’s expected at that level because it’s different when you get there. At our school, if you’re the best guy, there’s not a lot of guys pushing you. When you get to that level, there are three guys at that position that can be playing. You have to compete like that at all times.”

SEMO coach Tom Matukewicz and his staff made their scholarship offer to Prusko (6-foot-6, 220 pounds) at a camp at Northern Illinois University this summer. Prusko attended the Redhawks’ Junior Day and a camp in July, then accepted their offer shortly after that. Prusko talked a lot with SEMO tight ends coach Joe Uhls.

“The coaching staff is awesome,” said Prusko, a two-way starter as a junior. “They showed us what their team is all about, and their culture they have there was something that stood out.”

Prusko did not put up huge offensive numbers last season, catching five passes for 77 yards and one touchdown, but his frame and other abilities grabbed the Redhawks’ coaches attention.

“They liked my size and that I could block,” Prusko said. “They’re a very heavy run team. They use their tight ends the way we do at Crown. They do a lot of pin-and-pull. So do we. When they realized I was able to do that, that was something that really stood out to them.”

Prusko had an offer from Western Illinois and a preferred walk-on offer from NIU. The Redhawks finished 9-4 last season, losing to Weber State in the second round of the FCS playoffs. They gained 43.4% of their yards on the ground.

“He has heavy hands, and he’s not afraid to put his face in someone’s chest and block them,” Steinhaus said. “He’s only played two years of high school. He’s still learning to run routes. We’ll work on that more this year.”

Prusko missed his sophomore season with a broken collarbone but came back last season to help the Chargers finish 4-5, their best record since their Class 8A playoff appearance in 2013. He will be the fourth D-C player to go Division I out of high school since Steinhaus, a 2002 D-C graduate. Scott Horcher (2005, Dayton), Kevin Steinhaus (2006, Ball State) and Malik Dunner (2014, Ball State) are the other three.

“At first, in the recruiting process, I wasn’t getting a lot of coaches talking to me,” Prusko said. “There was a lot of stuff on Twitter about other kids committing. It hurts a little bit when you haven’t got an offer. As soon as I got that first offer, and then committed, it took a lot of stress off.”

Steinhaus figured once coaches talked to Prusko and saw him in live action, they would be hooked. He just told Prusko to “compete his butt off” at the camps, and things would take care of themselves.

“I’m excited for him,” Steinhaus said. “I know he’s excited. I wasn’t surprised by it. It came pretty quick through the workouts and camps. The program’s excited for him. We’re happy he can continue his education and get to play football, as well.”