Mike Naymola sees a great deal of Huntley’s football players on a daily basis as the high school’s teacher of advanced strength and conditioning classes.
It has allowed Naymola, a football assistant coach for 10 years, the opportunity to become better acquainted with the players off the field.
Naymola, who was announced Monday as the Red Raiders’ new head football coach, feels that connection with the players can be a huge bonus. Naymola’s hiring will be official at Thursday night’s Huntley School District 158 board meeting.
“The biggest reason I felt I was ready for the job, I was very in tune with the kids and being able to be in the building,” Naymola said. “All my classes are advanced strength and conditioning classes, so I get to be with the football players and most of the athletes in the school.
“When you’re in that environment with them and you get to know them a little bit better than just being their coach, they realize you care about them. When they have that trust in you, you wind up getting more out of them.”
Huntley athletic director Glen Wilson said there were numerous applicants for the job, which came open after Matt Zimolzak resigned in December after leading the Red Raiders for six seasons.
“I was flattered, as the leader of our athletic department, with the amount of people and the quality of candidates,” Wilson said. “It was a difficult decision, but a good process, one our kids are really going to benefit from.
“Mike’s been in our building for quite some time. Throughout the interview process, what resonated from Mike with us was his energy and connectivity with our student-athletes and our kids. His abiity to reach them and have them energized to do good things for themselves and for HHS football was a really strong piece. We’re really excited to bring coach Naymola aboard as our head coach.”
District 158 Superintendent Scott Rowe expressed similar sentiments.
“Building relationships is at the core of what we do best at Huntley High School and across the District,” Rowe said in a news release. “We are confident that Mr. Naymola has the connection to our students and community, coupled with his vast knowledge and experience in our football program, to elevate the experience of our athletes and reaffirm the program’s success.”
Naymola came to Huntley as a PE teacher and assistant football coach 10 years ago when former coach John Hart was hired. Hart was close friends with Doug Millsaps, Naymola’s high school coach at Rolling Meadows. Millsaps’ Rolling Meadows teams faced Hart’s Warren (Indiana) teams in camps, and Hart remembered Naymola.
Naymola has worked mostly as the Raiders’ wide receivers coach through his tenure at the school. Naymola and assistant Mike Slattery more or less acted as co-offensive coordinators for a few seasons before Zimolzak took over the play-calling.
Zimolzak was 39-18 in six seasons, but the Raiders finished 3-6 in 2021 and missed the playoffs for the first time in Zimolzak’s tenure at Huntley.
“Unfortunately, the 3-6 season happened, but in some ways, we almost got complacent in a way,” Naymola said. “In some regard, we might have needed a wake-up call, and last year might have been the wake-up call we needed. It starts with the coaches, and we’re doing a better job right now than we did last year of getting our kids ready.
“We’re going real hard in the weight room, four days a week in the morning before school and kind of getting our minds wrapped around that we’re not going to win games just by showing up. You have to have a ‘practice like you’ve never won, and then play like you’ve never lost’ mentality. Every once in a while you have a rut in terms of talent. I don’t necessarily think it was 100% that, but I do believe we may have lost some focus. I don’t know if it was the COVID year, but there seemed to be something missing when we all got back, a spark or something. We’ve reignited that spark this offseason.”
Naymola’s wife, Karen, is the Raiders’ girls volleyball coach. They have three daughters: Abby, in eighth grade; Izzy, in seventh; and Kylie, in kindergarten.
That Naymola knows the players so well should make for a smooth transition.
“It’s certainly an element that’s helpful – his tenure and experience within the building and the community,” Wilson said. “That will assist his transition process because he knows a lot of the working parts and elements that are fundemental to our program.”
Naymola will coach until the end of the school year with Huntley’s boys track and field team.
“It’s an appealing job; it’s a great school. We have tremendous facilities, and we’ve been extremely fortunate to have those,” Naymola said. “But it’s the kids who make it fun. It’s always been about the kids and the relationships that we’ve been able to forge. I felt like part of my coaching talent is not X’s and O’s necessarily, it’s being able to reach and find ways for kids to see the good in them and get the most out of them on the field.”