It’s no secret: the Prairie Fire Athletics department is undergoing a much-needed facelift. In the past decade, Knox teams have a cumulative win percentage of .196, reflected in the fact that since the 2002-2003 academic year, neither the men’s nor the women’s programs have done any better than seventh place in the All-Sports standings.
The rebuilding approach the Prairie Fire is taking is to start from the top, believing that having experienced coaches is the first step in securing athletic success. One of those new coaches is Head Football Coach Damon Tomeo, who hopes to once again steer Prairie Fire football, which hasn’t posted a winning season since 2002-2003, in a winning direction.
Tomeo’s coaching career has led him all across the country. “I’ve been lucky enough to have coaching opportunities from high school to several DIII and DII schools, even up to I-A,” Tomeo said. “Really, I’ve been all across the board.” Most recently, Tomeo served as the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for the Pomona-Pitzer Colleges football team in Claremont, Calif. during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. While there, he improved the defensive squad’s total defense, scoring defense and passing defense in 2012.
When asked what drove him to Knox, Tomeo said, “I saw a campus that has the facilities and the infrastructure to make a great community. I saw student athletes who were willing to put it all on the field without sacrificing their academics, and those are the kinds of kids I want to coach.”
Despite Tomeo’s newfound leadership, the Prairie Fire have stumbled out of the gate, dropping their first three contests. Their losses to Eureka and Carroll, however, have been narrow, and the whole team knows that had one deflection gone a different way, had one tackle been broken, the team could easily be 1-2 or even 2-1. Still, Tomeo believes it’s important not to think that way.
“We just have to focus on improving each and every day,” Tomeo said. “We’ve gotten better every day from Dec. 15 until today, and despite what’s happened to us in the past, we have to get better tomorrow. Now that we’ve hit the season, we have to be better from game to game, so we just have to be better each and every week than we were last.”
Tomeo did receive a sizable chunk of returning players (35, to be exact) from last year’s team, a team that ranked third in the MWC in points per game at 31.1 and set a new Knox record for points scored in a season (311), according to the Prairie Fire Athletics Department. Tomeo does not view any particular player as being the key to the success of Knox football; rather, he is excited that he has a coalition of players that work together and understand each other.
“We don’t really have one guy we revolve around, and that’s how it should be É Success on and off the field all comes down to having a group of guys who believe in each other and are willing to sacrifice for the greater good. There’s only one ball in this game, and every person on the field needs to understand their role in relation to that ball. Once everyone accepts their function on the team, that’s when you see success.”
Knox will try to capitalize on that mindset in their next contest against Lake Forest College. The Prairie Fire had a 13-6 halftime lead against Lake Forest the last time the two met, though they squandered away the lead in the end. The game will start at 1 p.m. at the Knosher Bowl on Saturday.