There have been many families whose sons have graced the gridiron at TF South High School in Lansing, however few families bleed the Rebel’s red and gray like the Padjen family. This week, with arch rival TF North on the schedule, those emotions run even deeper.
Head coach Tom Padjen was there at the first North-South clash all the way back in 1959.
“My uncle John (Padjen) was the first head coach at TF South,” recalled Padjen. “Even though I was young back then, I still remember the game. My dad took me to the game and there was a controversy,” he said.
”Back then, the officials kept the time on the field, even though there was a clock on the scoreboard,” said Padjen. South was trailing but had the ball first and goal at the one with a chance to take the lead and the scoreboard clock said there was almost a minute left in the game. Just as South was getting ready to snap the ball, the officials walked over and signaled the game was over.” Such was the beginning of a heated rivalry that has lasted almost 50 years. (Up until 1958, the communities of Lansing and Calumet City attended Thornton Fractional Township High School)
Padjen is just the fourth head coach in South history—a career that reached a milestone 30th year this fall. The Illinois hall of famer began as a freshman coach in 1974 before taking over the varsity head coaching job from Joe DeSoto in 1977.
After completing his high school career in 1968, the TF South grad continued his football career at Iowa State under nationally reknown coaches such as Johnny Majors, Jackie Sherrill and Jimmy Johnson.
Padjen returned to South in time to see his younger brothers, Bob and Bill play for the Rebels. As a matter of fact, Bob has been the Rebel’s defensive coordinator for the last 14 years. Before returning to the Rebel’s sideline, however, Bob spent 4 seasons as the head coach at St. Laurence in Chicago and was a defensive coordinator for 5 years at Mt. Carmel alongside another coaching legend—Frank Lenti.
While at Mt. Carmel, Bob earned a state championship ring, which is about the only thing that has eluded older brother Tom.
Coming into Friday night’s North-South tilt, the Rebels have won 15 out of the last 16 meeting against their rivals from Calumet City, including two wins in 2002—with the second being a 53-19 victory in the first round of the state playoffs.
The Rebels hold a 30-18 all-time advantage with the last Meteor victory coming in 1997, but the Rebels haven’t always been so dominate.
“Up until the 80’s this was a very evenly matched series,” said Padjen. “All through the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, we would win five and they would win five,” said the long time Rebel leader.
“This weekend is the first time in a long time that we have been going into a North-South game as the underdog. We come in at 3-1 and they come in at 4-0. We got beat last weekend by Rich South, a team that was 0-3 and they ran 70 offensive plays to our 35 and North physically dominated them earlier,” said Padjen.
This is probably as good a team North’s had athletically since Ron Tomczak was there. They’ve got good skilled position players, a D-1 receiver, good running backs and physical linemen.”
When it comes to his own team,Padjen is aware of the question marks. ”We’ve got 8 juniors on defense and an inexperienced offensive line,” he said.
One of the reasons for South’s success over the years has been Padjen’s staff of assistant coaches, of which eight are South alumni. Besides younger brother Bob, Doug Smith is the line coach, Trent Jensen, a member of 1994 state semi-final team is also on staff as are Rob Shell, Mark Brewe and Chad Hansen—all South grads.
If there is any need for a motivational pep talk before Friday’s 6:00 P.M. kick-off against the Meteors, Padjen has plenty of help on his staff to fall back on should he develop laryngitis.