Football: 'Coach Garza' moving on to Zion-Benton
It's a title that still humbles Cristo Garza and one he never takes for granted.
Garza often refers to himself as "Coach Garza." Who would have thought when he was a big lineman at Round Lake in the mid-1990s that one day he would become a head high school football coach? Not him.
That became a reality in 2015 when the 1996 Round Lake graduate was named head coach at his alma mater. Now, for the first time, Coach Garza has earned an opportunity to run a program coming off an appearance in the state playoffs.
Zion-Benton's school board on Thursday approved Garza's hiring as its new head coach.
Believe it, Coach Garza.
"I was reflecting on it," said Garza, who accepted the job two weeks ago. "Gosh, I got to coach at my alma mater, and now I get to coach at Zion coming off the playoffs. How lucky am I?"
The decision to leave Round Lake after four seasons is bittersweet for a passionate man who wears "Panther Pride" on his sleeve. While his Panthers won only five games (31 losses) and last season lost their final seven, he leaves the program in good condition. He told Round Lake's players of his decision on Friday morning.
"Whoever takes over that football program is definitely going to be in good shape," Garza said. "I think we did a lot of good things there establishing a culture that was centered on the weight room and accountability, and we built some great relationships. It was tough (Friday) morning telling them."
At Z-B, where he will also teach social studies, Garza will replace Bob Moynihan, who in February was named head coach at Harlem in Machesney Park. Moynihan, a former defensive coordinator at St. Viator, coached the Zee-Bees to an 18-28 record over five seasons. After falling just short of playoff eligibility in 2017 -- a season that included a Week-8 upset of playoff-bound Warren -- Zion-Benton won five games last season and earned a postseason berth for the first time in 15 years.
Round Lake last went to the state playoffs in 2001.
"It's fortunate for me to be the guy that's able to replace Moynihan and hopefully take what he's created to the next step," Garza said. "The sky is the limit for Zion-Benton."
As much as he loves Round Lake, Garza says it was a career move he couldn't afford to pass up. And while his daily commute goes from 8 minutes to 35 minutes, he said, the Volo resident doesn't have to move his young family.
"This year I interviewed at a couple of different places, and it just worked out that Zion checked all the boxes that I wanted in a football program," Garza said. "They play in a great conference (North Suburban), they have great administrative support, and then you walk around and see their facilities. They got a brand-new weight room. I just absolutely fell in love with everybody I came across."
He reiterated that it was not an easy decision to move on from Round Lake.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd ever be able to be the head coach at Round Lake," Garza said. "The flip side is I never even thought I'd be entertaining a chance to leave, but I just cannot pass up the opportunity that Zion presented."