Sustained success made it almost a safe expectation that the end of the road would come a few weeks from now for Fremd football coach Mike Donatucci.
But all good things or in this case the greatest streak of postseason appearances in Mid-Suburban League history do come to an end. Such was the case for the Vikings last week when their run ended at 16 years.
So, it led to an odd twist Friday night at the place where Donatucci's high school coaching career began as a Hoffman Estates assistant back in 1979. It was only the second time one of his 19 seasons in charge of the Vikings ended with a victory.
And the 44-14 final score in the MSL West finale at Garber Stadium made it the 137th and last time Donatucci was a winner at Fremd. The outpouring of emotion after the clock ran out was a testament to what Donatucci has done with the program.
"Mike has poured 19 years of his life into creating something special for kids," said lifelong friend and volunteer assistant Mike Brown. "He got young people to believe that they were capable of accomplishing any goal that they set out to achieve, by having an 'Iron Will' belief in themselves. He turned a lot of boys into men."
He finished with a record of 137-63 the most wins by a football coach during his time at an MSL school or schools. There were the MSL-record streaks of 16 playoff trips and eight division titles and four trips to the Elite Eight.
But there was also much more beyond the impressive numbers.
It was about former players and coaches chipping in for parting gift of a block of granite with the program's slogan "Iron Will, Est. 1993" carved into it.
It would make a perfect fit on "The Hill," where players not only did their conditioning drills but also shared many inspirational and emotional moments, including some after Thursday's practice.
"'The Hill' is a big part of Iron Will," said Fremd senior defensive back Keith Browning. "This program changed me a lot and made me a better person."
Stability and loyalty were also vital to one of the best programs around. Having Steve Patton and Lew Miskowicz run the offense allowed Donatucci to focus on a defense that was one of the MSL's best year after year.
So many other assistants such as Lou Sponsel, his first all-state player, Bob Hanson, Matt Zimolzak, Jason Adcock, Tim Hatfield and Dan Davis. People who volunteered their time such as Brown and Bob Savage.
And seeing former players now coaching elsewhere in the MSL such as Jeff Mandel on the opposite sideline Friday at Hoffman, Brian Bucciarelli at Elk Grove, Joe Pardun at Hersey and Jeff Grybash at BG is also meaningful. Many former players returned Friday including San Francisco 49ers quarterback Scott Tolzien and Ohio State lineman Brian Bobek since they didn't have games this weekend.
"When you sit back and think of all the quality people who make up the program, what people don't understand is I'm not the program and I never have been," Donatucci said Thursday. "I only hope others are smart enough to see those people have been a big part of making this thing go."
Donatucci joked this week that he has no hobbies because his passion is finding ways to break down an opposing offense. He'll be coaching somewhere next year.
But it will definitely be strange when that is somewhere else instead of Fremd for Mike Donatucci.
"We had to win it for 'Tucc,'" said Fremd senior defensive end Alejandro Suero. "He's given everything to us. He's the best."