DeKALB -- When Frank Lenti goes down the list of people he credits for helping him turn Mt. Carmel into one of Illinois' most storied high school football powerhouses, he includes his good friend Dave Proffitt.
And it's not just because a win over Proffitt's Lake Zurich Bears on Saturday in the Class 7A state championship game at Northern Illinois gave Lenti the 11th state championship of his 30-year coaching career at Mt. Carmel.
Rather, Proffitt helped Lenti build up, or should we say 'pump up', the Caravan in the early days, one dumbbell and one barbell at a time.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, Proffitt was in the health and fitness industry. He sold commercial weights and gym equipment to schools and health clubs. He also designed upscale gyms like the East Bank Club in downtown Chicago, which attracted famous clients such as Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey.
When Lenti was looking to upgrade the facilities at Mt. Carmel in order to take his football program to the next level, he turned to Proffitt. The two had gotten to know each other when Proffitt coached at Gordon Tech and Weber in the 1970s, before he left teaching and coaching for his career in the fitness industry.
"We've been friends for more than 30 years, starting when we were both assistant coaches. We go way, way back," Lenti said of Proffitt. "David was selling the Hammer Strength equipment at the time. Through David's help, we ended up refurbishing our weight room at Mt. Carmel.
"I would say he's directly responsible for where we are as a program right now, and for our success. He was on the foundation floor of that."
That irony isn't lost on Proffitt, whose Bears were dominated by Mt. Carmel in a 30-0 loss at Huskie Stadium. It was Proffitt's first shot as a head coach at a state title.
"Yeah, in some respects, I guess I did kind of help Mt. Carmel build its program," Proffitt said with a laugh. "You know, I've never coached against Frank before. We had a nice talk on Sunday (of last week) and we were both apprehensive about the (state championship) game because of our relationship. We're such good friends and that makes it difficult."
Having to coach against Proffitt made winning another state championship bittersweet for Lenti.
"It was very difficult, especially because you're not going to find a finer guy, a better person. I always enjoy hanging out with him," Lenti said of Proffitt. "This is like going against your cousin, or your brother. It was one of those games where you almost wish you didn't have to do it.
"Emotionally, in a game like this, I don't know that there are very many winners. I've had to coach against my actual brother before and that wasn't easy and this was a lot like that. Very hard."
You would think that being so close to a state title and falling short would be hard for Proffitt, who has run up a 106-46 record over his 14 years as a head coach, which includes a successful 10-year run at Marian Catholic (1991-2000) in Woodstock.
But the good salesman in Proffitt never allows him to take disappointment too hard, or too personally. He says he tries to stay mindful of the bigger picture.
"I hope people don't take this the wrong way, but for me personally, there are more important things in life than a state championship," Proffitt said. "Of course, it would be nice to win one, but what is really important to me is the health of my family and birth of my grandchildren and the success I see the young men on our team have in life every day. I guess I'm just thankful I have that state of mind."
Lenti says that's exactly the Proffitt he knows and loves.
"There are some people who are successful like David, but they're really arrogant and you just don't want to be around them," Lenti said. "The great thing about David is that he's a great football mind and a great coach and his teams win, but above all that, he's a class guy and a great person. He's always about teaching life lessons to his kids.
"That what we try to do at Mt. Carmel, too."
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