SAVANNA – Matt Leitzen is headed home.
The former West Carroll football coach will be back at his alma mater, Stockton, to coach the Blackhawks in the fall.
"I was born and raised in Stockton," Leitzen said. "Still live in Stockton, live two blocks from the school, so my kids go to school here. It means a lot to me. I have a lot of good memories from when I was a student athlete at the school, so there are the emotional ties there."
The Stockton job came open in March, when Jesse Snyder left after three seasons and a 22-10 record to join the coaching staff at Princeton.
The Blackhawks reached the IHSA playoffs all three seasons under Snyder, falling in the second round to Aquin this past season. They were 7-4 in 2019, going 4-2 in the NUIC North to tie Orangeville for second place in the division behind eventual Class 1A state champion Lena-Winslow.
"I think the program has been left in good shape," Leitzen said. "That always helps when you're taking over. A good group of kids is coming back. I think we'll have some very good senior leadership, which will make that transition a little easier. I think the big thing is just trying to instill some of the things that I believe in and getting the kids to execute."
Because of the pandemic, communicating with the players who will be on his Blackhawks' roster in the fall has been tough. He hopes he will be able to reach out to the seniors this week.
"I want to give them a little ownership in what's going on to attack the summer," he said. "Obviously we're going to be at the mercy of what the state and the school allows, but I think I am going to put a little bit of it in [the seniors'] hands because I've always been a big believer in it's their team, not mine."
In five seasons at West Carroll, Leitzen was 24-25, making the playoffs three times, including in 2019 when the Thunder lost in the first round to eventual Class 2A semifinalist Fieldcrest.
The year before Leitzen arrived, the Thunder went 1-8 in 2014, then rebounded in his first year at the helm to go 5-5 and make the playoffs.
After a dip to 4-5 in 2016, the Thunder were back in the playoffs the following year, and pulled off a first-round upset with a 40-0 win at Fieldcrest, the second postseason win in the program's history.
"I thought we had some talent. I thought I could make a difference," he said. "That first year qualifying for the playoffs, finishing the regular season 5-4 was a big step. I think the kids bought in right away in the summer. That got us off in the right direction."