Before spending the last nine years as an assistant at Kaneland, Pat Ryan graduated from Driscoll Catholic in Addison in 1998 and was on his alma mater's coaching staff for five state championship seasons from 2003-2008.
Kaneland coach Tom Fedderly stepped down after last year, and Ryan was hired in April to his first head coaching job. On Monday, he ran the Knights through a morning practice before the team headed inside.
"I think the mood was good," Ryan said. "They were upbeat. I thought it was a good first day."
First day as the head man, but Ryan -- a Bartlett resident -- has grown to feel at home at Kaneland.
"When I first got here it was a little bit of a culture shock," Ryan said. "I'll never forget when I had a kid tell me he couldn't make practice because he had to go show his pigs. That wasn't a line I got at Driscoll. It was just something I hadn't experienced, but kids are kids."
It's been all good for Ryan and the Knights since. The Kaneland defensive coordinator last year, Ryan has also coached linebackers and the offensive line while being part of a program that reached the Class 5A semifinals in 2010 and 2011.
He's hoping the Knights can eventually return to that success, though he knows there's work ahead taking over a team that went 4-5 last year and was 1-7 at the sophomore level with a 4-5 freshman team.
His experience in the Kaneland program has made his first head coaching job easier.
"It has been an easy adjustment because I do know most of the kids," Ryan said. "The biggest change for us is we are doing more things as a program-wide instead of having three separate teams. Trying to bring the whole program together more. I'm coaching freshman kids at times and our head freshman coach is still working with varsity kids at times. I want it to be more of a program. That's probably the biggest change we've had so far."
Ryan played for John Karpowicz at Driscoll, then he coached under Tim Racki during the Highlanders' state title runs in the 2000s.
"I learned so much from that coaching staff," Ryan said. "That was a great experience for me."
Kaneland does have 9 returning starters on offense including linemen Matt Payton, Drew Hahn and Robert Kruse, quarterback Jack Douglas, wide receiver Josh Marczuk, and running backs Jonathan Alstott, Chaz Shaw and Trevor Jones. Ryan Gierke is back as the offensive coordinator.
Defensively the Knights will have more new faces for coordinator Mike Thorgesen with just 2 returning starters.
Ryan will coach the special teams and offensive line.
"I feel like I can spread my wings and help out wherever," Ryan said. "I've always been more of a defensive-minded coach. I felt as a new head coach I needed a little support with all the paper work stuff you have to do that it would be good to have those guys (Gierke and Thorgesen) doing some of that. I help both sides of the ball."
Kaneland opens the season hosting Chicago Brooks, plays at Geneva in Week 2, and faces more challenges in a Northern Illinois Big XII East Confernece that sent three teams -- Sycamore, Morris and DeKalb -- to the state semifinals last year.