Editor's note: 'Why I Coach' is a new recurring series from Friday Night Drive which features high school football coaches from across Illinois. Know a coach that should be featured? Email email@example.com with your suggestion.
Dan Morrill witnessed Chris Schremp’s intense and meticulous nature when they were high school football teammates at Westchester St. Joseph.
Morrill, now a physical therapist in Westchester, was a year behind Schremp and looked to him as not only a teammate, but a mentor.
“He always had to do it perfectly,” Morrill said. “He was always correcting everyone else. He was always rallying everybody. He was the coach on the field, the one talking the most.”
Schremp was competing, as well as preparing for the only career he ever wanted, that of football coach. Thirty years later, Schremp is head coach of one of the top football programs in the state at Prairie Ridge, where the Wolves are 154-56 in his 18 seasons.
Schremp’s experience as a two-way lineman playing for Chargers coach Tony Manfre and his staff reinforced what he already was feeling.
“I just always knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Schremp said. “Sophomore year, when you started talking to your counselor about going to college and what you might want to do, I always just said ‘I want to be a teacher and coach.’ That’s it, that’s what I wanted to do. It was pretty simple and boring, but that was it. I never even thought about doing anything else.”
Schremp has molded the Wolves into a perennial top-10 Class 6A team. Prairie Ridge won state championships in 2011, 2016 and 2017, and lost in the title game this past season to East St. Louis, 43-21.
Nick Margiotta, a tight end and punter on the 2011 title team, played at NCAA Division II Winona State. Margiotta, who teaches eighth grade U.S. History at Huntley’s Marlowe Middle School, was thrilled two years ago when Schremp and offensive coordinator Joe Terhaar invited him to join their staff.
“I’d say 85% of the staff is still coaching from when I was around (as a player),” Margiotta said. “It’s pretty funny to coach with guys who were my mentors. They’re still mentors, but it’s more of a colleague position than looking up to them as a coach.
“It’s a consistency thing. (Schremp) has a routine and he goes with it. He’s been around the program so long, he knows what has gone well and what has not gone well. He’s very, very high with his expectations and standards not just for us, it’s the kids and the coaches. He holds us all to a standard we must maintain.”
Schremp started his college playing career at Lakeland College in Plymouth, Wisconsin, then transferred to St. Xavier University on Chicago’s far south side for his senior season. The Cougars were just starting their NAIA program.
After his eligibility was done, Schremp remained at St. Xavier to do his student teaching in physical education and driver education. Cougars coach Mike Craven hired Schremp to his staff for that season.
Schremp said he learned a lot that year from Craven and in the next year at Proviso West from head coach John Wilson.
A few years later, Schremp helped start another program – this time as a coach – as part of former Wolves coach Dave Whitson’s staff as Prairie Ridge opened in the fall of 1997.
In high school, Schremp admired St. Joseph basketball coaching legend Gene Pingatore, the winningest coach in Illinois high school history, and loved how his teams could control the clock when they were leading late in games. It’s something he still tries to translate to the football field.
As a young head coach, Schremp had Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Famers Bill Mack (Crystal Lake Central), Grant Blaney (Buffalo Grove) and Bob Bradshaw (Woodstock) all on his staff at some point.
Blaney taught Schremp how to develop relationships with the players.
“He was an influence on how I could have an impact on the player,” Schremp said. “I don’t think I every met a guy like coach Blaney. Anyone who ever met him rants and raves, ‘Oh, what a wonderful guy he is!’ That always stuck with me.”
Mack was masterful teaching Schremp the triple-option offense that has become a staple for the Wolves.
“I always hope my former players have good things to say about me, similar to coach Mack and coach Blaney,” Schremp said. “You hope your every-day work ethic and personality has a good effect on your kids.”
For Prairie Ridge’s first five seasons, Schremp was Whitson’s offensive coordinator and the Wolves were good. Schremp then took over in 2002 and Prairie Ridge has had only two losing seasons since.
“When you’re a young coach, you just want to win games,” Schremp said. “You think that is the ultimate goal and measure of success. Now, in my career, I look more at relationships I had with former students and players, and just the impact our program has on kids. That’s more of a measure of my success than anything. Seeing those guys come back and talk about the good experience they had in our program, that, deep down, is more rewarding and makes me the happiest.”
Morrill, who played linebacker behind Schremp at St. Joseph, still catches an occasional Prairie Ridge game. His son, Luke Morrill, was a basketball player and attended Montini, so Dan Morrill saw the playoff meetings between Prairie Ridge and Montini in 2015 and 2016. He is not surprised by Schremp’s success.
“He would coach baseball in the summer, he was always happy with teaching somebody something,” Morrill said. “He was always talking about teaching and coaching. If anybody was going into teaching and coaching, it was Chris.
“He was a great kid, he’s a great guy. I’d trust my kids with him, that’s the hallmark of a good coach. People who are dedicated to nothing else but making them better students and better people, that’s Chris.”