When McHenry head coach Jon Niemic and defensive coordinator Colt Nero began discussing Nero's head coaching prospects, Niemic could see the excitement in Nero.
“You could tell within the first two minutes of the conversation that this is what he wanted to do,” Niemic said. “He wanted to take a chance on himself.”
Nero will have his chance.
Amos Alonzo Stagg High School in Palos Hills introduced the 25-year-old Nero as head varsity football coach Thursday evening.
“I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher and that I wanted to be a football coach,” Nero said. “That was my goal, my dream.”
Nero is a 2012 graduate of Crystal Lake South. He played college football Minnesota State, an NCAA Division II program in Mankato, Minnesota. He coached at the fresh/soph level at McHenry in 2017 before becoming varsity defensive coordinator for the 2018 and 2019 seasons under Niemic.
He takes over a Stagg football program that hasn’t reached the postseason since 2005.
“We’re building this thing from the ground up,” Nero said. “We don’t care what the past has been like. It’s finding ways to motivate the kids, It’s finding ways to let them know that you can be successful. We don’t have to be a team that wins one or two games every year.”
Nero will be teaching special education at Stagg. The coaching hire came at a relatively late stage as he awaited his hiring as a teacher first.
Niemic, a 2006 Crystal Lake South grad, knows a thing or two about taking over a football program at a young age. Niemic became the head varsity coach at North High School in Sioux City, Iowa, at age 26 in 2014.
Niemic called Nero “an eager guy” who frequently challenged the head coach to look at things in different ways.
“He’s a guy that I knew would be able to take care of the defense without me having to micromanage it,” Niemic said. “He’s really been in charge of one side of the ball for the last two years.”
Nero said his former college coaches were two of his biggest coaching influences – Todd Hoffner, the head coach at Minnesota State, and Jake Dickert, who has since moved on to become the defensive coordinator at Washington State.
Nero started on the Mavericks’ 2014 team, which finished as the Division II national runner-up.
“You come from such a good culture and a winning culture, you want to implement that somewhere on your own and show guys that it’s possible to turn things around,” Nero said.
Stagg finished 1-8 last season, its second under former coach Brian Berg. The Chargers play in a tough SouthWest Suburban Conference Red Division, featuring Lincoln-Way Central, Lincoln-Way West, Andrew and Bradley-Bourbonnais.
Crossover games with the Blue Division, one of the state’s best, include matchups with Bolingbrook, Lockport and Sandburg this season.
“We’re kind of at the bottom of the barrel, and we love it because nobody expects us to do anything,” Nero said. “So there’s no pressure. When we come out this year and we start shocking some teams, we’re going to put Stagg back on the map.”