Features | Friday Night Drive

Providence, head coach Tyler Plantz return to prominence, state championship game

Providence Catholic's Gavin Hagan and head coach Tyler Plantz celebrate during the third-round Class 4A playoff game against Richmond-Burton in New Lenox.

NEW LENOX – For several years, there was no better football program in the state than Providence Catholic.

The Celtics put together an incredible run of nine championships and two runner-up finishes from 1987 to 2004. It was another 10 years before another title came in 2014, and since then the Celtics had missed the playoffs as often as they qualified for them.

Enter Tyler Plantz.

Plantz, a former Celtics captain and linebacker on the 2009 Class 6A runner-up team, left a promising college coaching career at Notre Dame, where he was the senior special teams and offensive analyst and assistant director of football operations, to return to Providence and take over as the third head coach in the program’s history, after Matt Senffner and Mark Coglianese. In his first year, he has the Celtics back in the state championship game, where they will play for the Class 4A title at 7 p.m. Friday against Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin at the University of Illinois.

The Celtics finished 3-6 last season, but that was against a schedule that featured three state champions and a state runner-up. This year, with seniors making up only half of the starting 22 positions on offense and defense, the Celtics posted a 5-4 record in the regular season, defeating St. Laurence 49-20 in the regular-season finale to clinch a playoff berth. They have since reeled off four straight wins in the playoffs, including a 24-21 victory over Joliet Catholic in the second round that avenged an earlier 49-41 defeat at the hands of the Hilltoppers in Week 4.

Although the success for the Celtics has manifested itself in the past four weeks during the playoffs, the process that has led to it began in Februrary when Plantz was hired.

Providence Catholics Jamari Tribett runs in a touchdown during the 2nd round IHSA playoff game against Joliet Catholic Academy Saturday Nov. 5, 2022 at Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox

“We started working right away,” he said. “We were sinfully weak, so we hit the weight room. The first six to seven months were all strength and conditioning. After that, we worked on fundamental movement skills. How you move forward, how you stop, how you move laterally. Then we went on to discipline, on the field and off the field. Leaders started stepping up.

“The summer wasn’t about installing an offense or a defense. It was still working on fundamentals. If you can block and tackle better than the guys you are playing, you are going to win nine out of 10 times.”

Oddly enough, it was a loss in Week 8 to St. Rita that Plantz says turned around the team’s fortunes.

“We had given up zero yards in the first half against St. Rita,” he said. “Not just zero points, zero yards. Then, we came out in the second half, and we couldn’t field punts, we were making bonehead mistakes, and we ended up losing a game we really should have won.

“I told the guys that they have to take ownership of their season. I coach them. I don’t put on the pads and go out and play. I gave them the autonomy to have control of their season, and they have taken off from there. A lot of it is belief in the process and the belief that the coaches are going to put them in the right position to win.

“There has been a lot of mentorship on this team from the seniors to the younger players. I explained to the seniors that this is their team. I organize things, but it’s their team. As the season has progressed, they have taken that and run with it.”

The eight teams Providence played during the regular season combined for a total of 48 wins, so the Celtics’ schedule in the Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference Orange had them well tested when the playoffs began.

“We are blessed to play in the Catholic League, which is one of the best conferences in Illinois, if not the whole Midwest,” Plantz said. “There is nothing we haven’t seen. We’ve seen teams with a lot of size, we’ve seen teams with a lot of speed, we’ve seen mobile quarterbacks, great drop-back passers. We’ve seen Power 5 recruits, Group of 5 recruits. These kids have seen it all.

“We don’t have that. There isn’t a scholarship offer on our team. We got some all-conference awards because of how we placed in the league, but no offensive player of the year, defensive player of the year, no all-state honors in Class 4A. That’s fine with us. The goal for us is bigger than individual awards. The goal is the team joy that comes from winning a ring. At Providence, the emphasis is on something bigger than you.

“We’ve had noseguards play this year ranging from 6 feet, 220 [pounds] to 5-6, 175. There’s no job too big or no job too small. If it’s your time to get in there, you go in there and do your job to help your team.”

Plantz and the Celtics are excited to end their season on the largest stage.

“It’s a great situation,” Plantz said. “We’re prepared for it. The kids have been working hard, and they are excited. I have told them to soak everything up and enjoy it. This is a result of all the hard work they have put in. It isn’t by luck or accident that they went 3-6 last year and are playing for a state title this year. They have worked their butts off.

“Ideally, we will have a good plan and we will continue to work hard for 48 minutes Friday night. I am proud to say that Providence is a force again. I have learned from some pretty impressive people, and to bring that high level of football back to where the Providence tradition is has been great.

“My coaching staff has a lot of former Providence players, so they know what is expected of this program, and they relay that to the kids.”