A big, strong man, Jason Schaal experienced big things in his 30s. And as he got older, things kept getting bigger and better, both professionally and personally.
Consider that Grayslake Central's new head football coach was on staff when South Elgin High opened its doors in 2005. He became a head coach in both girls basketball and softball for the first time and served as an assistant football coach, helping build all three programs.
Then he met his future wife.
Then the couple had its first child, then its second.
Then the young dad got offered to come to Grayslake Central to be its Life Fitness department chair.
Then he agreed to take over as head softball coach.
Then, last November, he tackled a milestone birthday. Hello, 40. Goodbye, terrific 30s.
"I need to be active," said Schaal, who doesn't need to drink from a magic fountain to stay young. "I need to be busy."
Grayslake Central's school board approved Schaal's hiring last week. He becomes the Rams' sixth head football coach this century and takes over a squad that went 4-5 in 2013, missing the state playoffs for the second year in a row.
"It's always been a dream to have the opportunity to run a program," Schaal said. "I'm excited about the opportunity here, being my first year in the building. This school year I've had a great time, a great experience. The staff, the students and everyone in the community have been very welcoming."
Schaal is finishing up what he called a great first year at Grayslake Central. The Rams' softball team is 19-8, on the verge of its first 20-win season in nearly 10 years. As a department chair, he says he's learned a lot, especially about himself.
"The last 10 years have been more than excellent for me. I don't know the proper way to say it," said Schaal, the husband of Renee, and the father of Courtney, 3, and Jason Jr., 1. "If the next 10 are as good as this past 10, things will be really good on my side."
Schaal knows the challenges ahead of him, not only on the football field but in his personal life. After all, he doesn't want to be away from his kids when they hit milestones of their own -- first tooth that falls out, first solo ride on a two-wheel bike, first day of school.
Little Jack, for example, is running around more and more and starting to talk.
For now, Daddy doesn't plan on relinquishing his softball duties.
"The balance is going to be a little bit of a challenge," said Schaal, who's replacing Ben Ault as head football coach. "I don't want to miss my kids growing up. I want to be there for them. Over the last 10 years, I haven't missed a family party."
Springs will admittedly be tough for Schaal, since college football coaches are making their rounds, visiting high schools to learn about potential recruits.
"Right now is a very busy time for both sports (football and softball)," Schaal said. "I'm not going to lie: It's a little overwhelming at this point of the season because it's all brand new. I'm getting all the college coaches information from Ben. I'm trying to prepare for the (softball) postseason. But that will be adjusted and fixed with planning."
Schaal served as Ault's offensive and defensive line coach last fall, while also coordinating the special-teams units. When Ault resigned, Schaal expressed interest in taking over the program. He and Renee talked about it.
"It wasn't expected, at all," Schaal said. "Ultimately, when you have opportunities, you need to take them, because they don't come around too often."
A 1991 graduate of Naperville North, Schaal was a three-technique defensive lineman under IHSFCA hall of fame coach Larry McKeon. He played one year at Loras College in Iowa and eventually graduated from Northeastern Illinois University.
"I owe an awful lot to Coach McKeon and all the coaches at Naperville North for what they taught me," Schaal said.
Schaal served six years as South Elgin's defensive coordinator. As Grayslake Central's head coach, however, he's going to the other side. He's going to run the offense.
"I'm going to use my experience as a ‘D' coordinator," Schaal said. "I'm going to make the (offensive) play calls and use my experience as to what drove me crazy as a ‘D' coordinator and hopefully cause a little confusion for our opponents."
While Schaal says the Rams' personnel will dictate what he runs on a year-by-year basis, he wants to spread the field. Under Ault the last two seasons, the Rams ran lots of veer, triple option.
"I foresee us going more spread," Schaal said. "We'll probably get away from the double wing a little bit."
That, after all, is the football age we're in. It's Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, zone run, one read for the quarterback.
Get ready for Schaal Ball, kids.
"What all the kids are seeing with RG3 and all that is more spread attack," Schaal said. "It allows you to get the ball in your athletes' hands a little quicker, and it can be a little bit more up tempo."
Keeping busy, moving fast. That's what keeps Jason Schaal young -- and focused.
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