Junior college football, especially here in the state of Illinois, has been in a steady state of decline over the past several years.
No one knows this better than Matt Foster, the College of DuPage head football coach. Foster, a teacher at Wheaton North and former head football coach of the Falcons varsity program, decided a few years ago that keeping the opportunity of playing at the junior college level was to become Foster's new coaching passion.
"This is my mission," Foster said while talking about why he decided to jump back into the junior college level after successful coaching stops at both the high school and college level. "This is where my heart is and that goes for my entire coaching staff here at COD. I know that we can be a real game changer for kids and that's what motivates everyone here."
One of the prime examples of Matt Foster and his staff's mission is former Minooka -- and now Texas Tech Class of 2015 signee -- Paul Stawarz (6-foot-5, 280 pounds). Offensive tackle Stawarz, who was a late academic qualifier in his senior year at Minooka, decided to buy into Foster's mission and message.
"I can never thank the coaches at COD enough," Stawarz said. "I was a kid coming out of high school who just didn't take things too seriously. I was overweight in high school, never really worked too hard and that also went for the classroom.
"I was that kid that Coach Foster talks about all the time who took advantage of a second chance with the College of DuPage. I just decided to stop playing around because Juco ball was no joke. It was the eye opener that I needed and I just woke up and decided to do something positive with my opportunity."
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The College of DuPage remains the only junior college in Illinois to offer football. The Chaparrals play a full season of games against other junior college teams from Iowa and Ohio as well as games against various NCAA D-3 schools.
"The travel really hasn't been too bad at all for us, and we also get to play against some great competition," Foster said. "Our goal is to win as many games as possible, but I have a staff in place (which includes former head coaches in Lake Park's Andy Livingston and Simeon's Jesse Chick) that also can see the bigger picture. It's all about putting the finishing touches on kids who have a chance to move on to the next level."
Yet the Chapparal coaches have also discovered that its mission goes well beyond the football field.
"Our mission also has to do with much more than just football. We have kids every year who have two years to figure it all out. Some move on and play football after they leave us but we also have guys who just find themselves and find a path and a new direction in life. If we can't offer those kids these opportunities, then where do they go? That's why I'm here and that's why my staff is also here at the College of DuPage. We believe in keeping those opportunities available for kids."