Rob Eastland is returning to a program he helped build for his latest challenge.
After taking five years off from coaching at Johnsburg High School to spend more time with his family, the accomplished girls soccer coach is coming back to lead a Skyhawks program he helped raise to historic levels.
“I’m always looking for challenges,” Eastland said. “I don’t think it’ll be the same as before, but I’m looking forward to whatever gets thrown on the path along the road.”
Eastland returns to Johnsburg after leaving in 2017 and will take over for Adam Bronars, who will stay on as the boys coach. Eastland led the girls program for five years and the boys for 12 before leaving to spend more time with his daughters.
Both Johnsburg programs excelled during Eastland’s time as head coach, with the girls team earning a program-best fourth place finish in the 2013 Class 1A state tournament before topping that in 2017 with a third-place finish. Eastland was named the Northwest Herald 2017 Girls Soccer Coach of the Year for the Skyhawks’ historic season.
Eastland stayed on as a teacher at the school and continued to lead the Northern United travel team. After his daughters grew up and there was more free time available, the coach knew he wanted to go back to coaching high school soccer.
“It’ll be nice to get back into that role,” Eastland said. “More than anything, I’ve got a daughter in eighth grade and fourth grade, it’ll be fun to coach their generations coming through.”
The coach admitted that things are a little different than they were the first time he took over the Skyhawks. When he was younger, he stepped in and it took a while to build the program he wanted.
With more experience, Eastland said he is a lot more aware of how things work and how to get to the places he wants to be quicker. His experiences over the years with the high school and club programs helped him build a successful program that players want to build and join.
Eastland also is aware of what works and what doesn’t.
No matter what generation of athletes he is coaching, Eastland said it is important to build relationships with his players, show them why they need to “buy in” into the program and also show them that he’s buying into them.
“The success they got was from building a program they were proud of,” Eastland said. “I think that’s always been part of my philosophy. When you have a program that the kids can’t wait to get to at the end of a school day and it’s a release for them, they buy into it and I think the success is the byproduct of that.”
The Skyhawks finished last season 6-8 overall and 5-5 in the Kishwaukee River Conference, losing in the Class 1A regional final against Marian Central. Eastland is excited for the talent he has coming up through the ranks, including junior Mackenzie McQuiston and an impressive group of eighth graders that will eventually join the program.
After time away, Eastland is ready for his next challenge and realizes its importance.
“I think I realized why I coach and the importance of coaching,” Eastland said. “With what kids have gone through over the last three, four years, it’s more understanding what a coach’s role is and having them have something they want to be a part of and enjoy.
“I’m excited to play that active role for kids again.”