Matt Harding was promoted to Minooka's head coach after most recently serving as the team's defensive coordinator.
Matt Harding was promoted to Minooka's head coach after most recently serving as the team's defensive coordinator. — Photo provided

The Minooka football program has definitely had some positive momentum going in the past few seasons.

Last season, Minooka completed an undefeated regular season and ended Oswego's stranglehold on the Southwest Prairie Conference title before reaching the quarterfinal round of the Class 8A playoffs.

But after the season, veteran coach John Belskis elected to step down from his position leading the program. Also departing the staff were several other coaches, including Hall of Famers Bob Williams and Terry McCombs due to retirement, leaving a rather large void the program would have to fill.

In that spirit, the program decided to try to maintain as much continuity as it could in the transition to a new head coach by elevating the Indians former defensive coordinator Matt Harding to the head coaching position.

"I don't planning on changing a lot, I know that we've lost a lot of pieces moving, but we've got a lot of people coming back in that are high quality, high character guys," Harding said. "As far as football-wise, teams are still going to have to respect the power team. The way John's mind works, you don't get that with a lot of coaches, and I was able to pick his brain for a couple of years along with the other coaches and our goal is to keep the same system. And you might see some tweaks here and there, but the basis of what we are going to do is staying the same. Because it works."

Harding has also added some assistants with experience to fill some of the positions that were vacated. Pat Watson has moved over from Naperville Central to coach the offensive line, while former Crete-Monee offensive coordinator Matt Slusher has also joined the Indians staff.

Harding has been involved with the Minooka program since 2010 at various levels, transitioning up to the varsity level when McCombs took over the head coaching job and then remaining there when Belskis and McCombs rotated the assistant and head job after McCombs experienced some health issues.

As Belskis was not on staff at Minooka, some of the day-to-day responsibilities usually handled by a coach in the building fell to Harding, which allowed him to pick up some valuable experience that should help him in the transition to the head varsity football position.

"John couldn't be there at times and I filled some of that void, if something arose during the school day I tried to handle, and if I didn't know how to handle it I'd contact John and he'd do good job of getting back to me," Harding said. "But a lot of the necessities got taken care of during the day when they arose."

While this is Harding's first varsity head football coaching job, it isn't the first time Harding has served as a varsity head coach. Harding's pedigree comes through wrestling, as the Ottawa graduate wrestled at the University of Illinois, and quickly built a solid wrestling program at Evergreen Park High School during a two-year stint there.

Harding student taught at Minooka, but a position wasn't available at the school after he completed that stint requiring the brief move to Evergreen Park. A job did open at Minooka later, which allowed him to return where he has steadily climbed the ranks of the football program.

With programs all around struggling to figure out the best way to maintain contact with athletes, Harding still managed to keep things on track for the Indians as best he could despite not being officially named the head coach until recently.