For Jack McCluskey, Glenbard West football has always been a family affair.
Competing in his final season in a Hitters uniform, the offensive lineman is following in the footsteps of two people very dear to his heart.
Both his dad, Pat, and his uncle Mike previously played for the storied program, graduating from the Glen Ellyn high school in 1992 and 1986, respectively.
“It means a lot,” said Jack McCluskey, a three-sport athlete who also wrestles and plays baseball. “Both my dad and uncle were really good football players. And this is a great program that has had a lot of success. I love playing for Glenbard West and I want to carry on our family history and legacy.
“They’ve both had a big impact on me. Having them support me, it’s been great.”
Being able to watch his son put on that same green and white uniform and ascend to being a starting guard has truly been memorable for Pat.
“It’s such a proud feeling,” his dad said, “especially with how hard he has worked. He started out on the B team freshman year, but he worked really hard in the weight room and with the coaches. To see him start, when the game ends on Friday or Saturday, I already can’t wait till the next game.
“Just seeing him play on Duchon Field, which is the same field that I played on with my buddies, is so special. The cool thing is my high school buddies are always watching him too. They think it’s great.”
As it turns out, their football bond runs even deeper. Pat, also a guard in high school while doubling as a middle linebacker, returned to Glenbard West and has taught math there for 19 years. He also coaches in the football, wrestling and baseball programs. And as fate would have it, Jack didn’t start playing the sport until he reached high school, where his first coach turned out to be his dad.
“My dad kind of got me started with the sport,” said the senior, who remembers going to a lot of Glenbard West games when he was younger. “I knew the game, but it’s the little things within the game I didn’t experience until I started playing.
“It was fun. There wasn’t really any stress playing for him. I obviously knew him really well already. I guess it was a little weird at the same time, the other kids are calling him ‘Coach’ and I’m calling him ‘Coach’ too, but he is my dad. But I loved playing for him.”
“I had such a nice experience coaching him,” said Pat McCluskey, who along with wife Theresa also has a sophomore son (Andrew), a freshman daughter (Mary) and an eighth-grade daughter (Danielle). “I was able to teach him a lot of the techniques that I was taught. He was very receptive to it; he’s very coachable and he is really self-motivated. It went too fast.”
Recently it was time for Pat to once again offer a little wisdom, not only to Jack but to the rest of his Hitters’ teammates after the team’s first loss of the season on Oct. 2 to York.
“My dad shared his playing experience with the whole program after that loss to York,” Jack McCluskey said. “He talked about how they were undefeated and lost in the playoffs to Naperville North. For them it was over after that loss, but for us, after the loss to York, we still had the opportunity to redeem ourselves. The season wasn’t over for us even though we lost that game.”
Like clockwork, Glenbard West bounced back with wins over Downers Grove North and Lyons Township and will play for a share of the West Suburban Silver championship at home against Hinsdale Central on Saturday. A 14th consecutive trip to the playoffs awaits after.
“The players might not be the most talented but we play together,” said Jack McCluskey, who mentioned that his uncle, a former safety, has been to games this fall, including the victory over Downers Grove North. “We come together, we execute and we do our job. Even in tough situations, we do not point fingers at each other. And Coach (Chad) Hetlet and his staff really coach us up. They make us ready for the games and that leads to a lot of success on the field.
“It’s been great to have a full nine-game season. And we didn’t have the playoffs last year either (due to COVID-19). So this is basically my first full varsity season and it’s been really cool to experience what it is like.”
Being a part of the coaching staff at the ground level during this extended run of success has also been a really cool experience for Pat McCluskey.
“We’ve had pretty much the same coaching staff since Chad came in,” he said. “It’s nice to keep that tradition going. The coaches are all good buddies. It’s great. I think when Coach Hetlet came in, one of the biggest things he changed was with lifting and getting stronger, both physically and mentally. We don’t have the biggest guys in the conference. But if you are going to be called the Hitters, you have to back it up. A lot of focus is not only on getting stronger but also that mental toughness.”
As for Hetlet, who has led the Hitters to a pair of state championships and a runner-up finish, he will often point to the family atmosphere as one of the keys to the program’s consistent success. Here is a literal example of that.
“It’s super cool from that standpoint,” Hetlet said. “They are both Hitters through and through and very passionate about our program. Jack is a quiet kid; he is very unassuming and doesn’t say much but he works his tail off. He’s a very consistent lineman for us up front and he got into the lineup by outworking the guys next to him.
“Dad is kind of on the other side. He’s probably the most popular teacher at Glenbard West. He is super outgoing and super energetic. They are a really popular family in Glen Ellyn and very well-respected in the community.”