One of Lou Sponsel's first acts as Fremd's new head football coach was a look back into the past for him and the program.
Sponsel was addressing all of his players shortly after he was officially named to the position Thursday afternoon. Twenty years ago, Sponsel was listening to a similar introduction when Mike Donatucci took over as Fremd's coach.
"'Tucc' said, 'Did you see your replacement in the back of the room?'" Sponsel said with a laugh. "You never know."
What the 1995 all-state and Daily Herald all-area linebacker has known is this is exactly the job he's wanted since he returned to Fremd as a physical education teacher and assistant coach in 2003. He replaces Donatucci, who retired after 19 years as the Mid-Suburban League's winningest football coach with a 137-63 record.
Sponsel has coached the running backs, offensive linemen and special teams at Fremd. He also spent two years as a student assistant coach to Joe Novak at Northern Illinois and started at fullback for two years there.
"It's a longtime dream come true," Sponsel said. "I always knew I wanted to coach but I didn't know where or when or what. At NIU, I thought I wanted to coach in college but after coming back and watching 'Tucc' coach, this is where I wanted to be and where my passion is.
"When you think about two coaches in 38 years between 'Samo' (Joe Samojedny) and 'Tucc,' who have had a such a big impact on my life and many others, it's an honor. At the same time, it's humbling to know such a powerful and excellent program is on your shoulders."
Sponsel's senior year at Fremd was the start of an MSL-record streak of 16 playoff appearances that ended with a 4-5 finish last season. A league record eight consecutive division titles also made it one of the more attractive job openings around.
"I'm extremely pleased but really proud of Lou and really eager to see him really grow and mature in this position," said Fremd athletic director Augie Fontanetta. "What really separated Lou from the pool of candidates is he embodies everything you want from a high-school coach.
"He's passionate and knowledgeable and he pours his heart into everything he does, particularly with his ties to Fremd. He's an intelligent young coach and he's going to thrive with this opportunity."
Sponsel, who has also been an assistant lacrosse and boys track coach at Fremd, knows he doesn't have to perform a major overhaul or reclamation project. He said his experience as a part of the staffs with Novak and Donatucci prepared him well for this next step.
"'Tucc' has been great and it felt like he made you a head coach in your own role," Sponsel said. "The core of the program is not going to change. It will look and feel a little different, but it's the same program and it's really a passing of the torch.
"The main purpose is to create successful people. I'm hoping to be able to do for kids what this program has done for me and for other people."
Sponsel, who also wrestled and competed in track at Fremd, said he wants a program with multisport athletes. He said the administrative support is "second to none" and will be a big part in his vision of continuing the program's tradition for success.
And Sponsel has already gotten a feel for what's ahead after emerging from a three-stage interview process.
"It was a lengthy process but at the same time I understand why and the pressure I was put under in the interviews," Sponsel said. "Dr. (principal Lisa) Small and Augie said when you take the job it's going to press you because it's such a big job in everyone's eyes."