Alden-Hebron had won seven games in seven years before John Lalor took over as head coach before the 2003 season.
In 1999, the Giants could not find enough players to play a full schedule and played five junior varsity games.
“Things were pretty low when I took over,” said John Lalor, a 1980 A-H graduate. “Just bringing back the pride for the town and the school was big.”
The program took off under Lalor. After making the Class 1A playoffs once previously in school history – in 1991 under former coach Dave Joslyn – the Giants made the playoffs 12 times in 13 seasons.
So it was difficult recently when Lalor, who also is the school’s athletic director, decided he was stepping down as coach.
“Right now, I need to step back and take it easy a little bit,” Lalor said. “It’s just time. It was hard. Trust me, it was very hard. We’ve had a lot of good families and a lot of good kids.”
Lalor hopes to fill the position soon. A-H does have an open physical education teaching position, which could help. In the last four seasons, because numbers had drastically dropped, A-H played in the Illinois 8-Man Football Association. Lalor was also instrumental in forming that group.
An incident this spring, some hypertension caused by high blood pressure, forced Lalor to re-evaluate. He operates his family farm, serves as AD and is president of the I8FA. His 17 years is the longest stint any coach had at A-H.
Lalor’s teams finished 103-67 and his only three losing seasons came in the last four years while playing eight-man football.
“I’m fine (health-wise), it was just a lot of stress,” Lalor said. “I got a lot going on. I was like, ‘Maybe it’s time to put some of it to rest.’ When I look at the circumstances and everything else, we have a really good young group coming up and I thought it would be a good time to step back and let somebody else build that.”
Lalor said eight freshmen have been showing up for conditioning this summer and thinks the Giants are a year or two away from being something special.
Lalor and assistants Dean Bentley, Joe Joseph and Jason Adkins comprised the staff in his early years at A-H. The Giants were 9-2, 11-1, 9-2 and 9-1 from 2005 through 2008. The 2006 team reached the quarterfinals and the 2005 team won the first playoff game in school history.
“We made the playoffs my first year and got it handed to us at Stockton,” Lalor said. “When we won our first playoff game (two years later), we beat Stockton (27-14), what sweeter way to do it than that? We had some great teams and some great kids.”
Lalor thanked Bentley, Joseph and Adkins for helping turn the programs around. He remains as AD and now will have more spare time to deal with being I8FA president, something he says is almost like a part-time job. The I8FA had 23 teams last season and is growing each year.
Lalor say eight-man football as an alternative for smaller schools with dwindling numbers to not lose their programs. The I8FA has held its state championship games the last two years at Monmouth College.
“This will give me more time to focus on that,” Lalor said. “The goal is to see if we can get a TV station to cover the championship game. I’m going to keep pushing (eight-man football) until the IHSA takes it over.”