All's well for new Grayslake North coach Atwell

  • Corey Atwell

    Corey Atwell

Updated 5/4/2020 3:47 PM

When he relinquished his longtime position as Vernon Hills offensive coordinator two years ago to accept a lesser role at Grayslake North, Corey Atwell did so for one reason.

His lone son, Nathan, was about to start his freshman year at North. Athletic Nathan plays football. Knights head coach Sam Baker had an assistant's spot open.


"I got to know Sam a little bit in the off-season," Atwell said of Baker, who stepped down as North's head coach a couple of months ago after three seasons to accept the same position at Rolling Meadows. "He called me and said, 'Hey, would you want to coach here?' I thought, 'I'm never going to see my kid play [if I remain coaching at Vernon Hills].' So I talked to the family and said, 'Let's make the move.' "

Now, Atwell is moving up.

Grayslake North approved his hiring as Baker's successor during its District 127 school board meeting on Thursday night. It wasn't what Atwell planned on two years ago.

"When I got up here, I was just a position coach (slot receivers), so I was just wandering around the house at night," Atwell said with a laugh. "I watched a little film and threw in my input, but there was no really game-planning for me."

Now, his game plans will include his son. Nathan made North's varsity as a sophomore last fall. He played wide receiver before breaking his collarbone early in the season.

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"If anything, I got to try to reel back because I'm a little tougher on him than most," said Atwell, 49, who served as OC at Vernon Hills under both Tony Monken and Bill Bellecomo. "He said to my wife (Kris), 'When we win, I'll ride home with Dad. When we lose, make sure you don't leave because I'll ride with you.' "

Atwell, whose daughter, Morgan, played golf and basketball for North and will graduate this month, has taught at Vernon Hills since the school opened 20 years ago and will remain as driver's education coordinator. While North will be his first as a head football coach, he was once Vernon Hills' head girls track coach. He's also coached and taught at Geneseo (his high school alma mater), Kewanee and Neuqua Valley. He was the head wrestling coach at Kewanee. He played football and wrestled at Geneseo (Class of 1990), before enjoying a successful wrestling career for Division-III Illinois College, where he earned his degree in physical education.

Geneseo ran a Wing-T offense when Atwell played there, and he coached option for years at Vernon Hills. Baker ran a spread offense at North, and with the COVID-19 pandemic keeping coaches and players away from each other, Atwell, for now, will stick with it.

"I'd love to change to what I want to do, but I just don't know with the way things are," Atwell said. "I don't think we're going to get any summer time, so I'm thinking I'm probably just going to have to stay with what the kids know so far and put a tweak in here and there."


His familiarity with the program should ease the transition.

"That's the thing. The kids already know me," Atwell said. "I can't image being a coach coming into a school brand-new, nobody knows you, you can't meet with (the players) in the summer, and all of a sudden you're going to show up in August and go to go to work with them."

Atwell was selected from a pool of more than 25 candidates.

"His philosophy of player development and core values made him a leading candidate for the position," Grayslake North athletic director Tina Woolard said in a statement. "As a current member of the Grayslake family, Corey has strong ties to our community and student-athletes. His knowledge and experience with coaching, football and athletics in our area are some of his outstanding attributes. Corey's work ethic, enthusiasm, drive and desire to lead the Knights' program made the decision of who was going to fill this role an easy one."

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