DeMoss still going strong in 31st year of coaching

Tom Batters
Tony DeMoss

The famous kick happened more than 35 years ago, but Tony DeMoss can still picture the ball sailing through the air as if it happened yesterday.

DeMoss was the place kicker for the Manual High School football team back in 1973. After the Rams scored a touchdown against East Peoria, the coaches called on DeMoss to kick the extra point, which he had not attempted before. He drilled the kick through the uprights so hard that it flew over the hill at the old Stamper Stadium and landed in the bushes. Nobody could find the ball, and the referees had to get a new one.

 DeMoss, a three-sport athlete for Manual in the early seventies, is now the boys and girls soccer coach at Richwoods High School.

 He recently sat down to reflect on those “glory days,” and his coaching career, which has spanned 31 years and taken him to four different high schools.

He talked about his early aspirations of becoming a professional soccer player, and he discussed this season, which he said has been the most challenging of his career, since the Knights are so young (eight sophomores in the starting lineup).

 A twist of fate

DeMoss, 53, grew up in West Peoria and attended St. Bernard’s Grade School. He planned to attend Spalding High School, but those plans were derailed when his father was in a serious accident when DeMoss was in eighth-grade.

 “He was almost killed,” DeMoss said. “That changed a lot of things. We couldn’t afford to go to Spalding, so I wound up going to Manual. It turned out OK, especially since that’s where I met my wife (Robin). We’ve been married for 33 years, and she has been such a blessing.”

 DeMoss ran the quarter mile in track (he was one of the first runners in Central Illinois to break the 50-second mark), played football, and wrestled.

 “Back then, anyone who played football had to wrestle. That was the rule,” he said, smiling. “Believe it or not, I wrestled at 138 pounds. People are surprised to hear that when they see how big and fat I am now.”

 He played center and linebacker on the football team, and he was one of the first “soccer style” place kickers in the area.

 Manual did not have a soccer program yet, but DeMoss played competitive club soccer in the summer. He played for the Chicago Blues, which traveled to Chicago and throughout the Midwest to face top professional teams. DeMoss was one of the youngest players on the team.

 “I remember playing at Hickory Grove, and there were hundreds of people there to watch us play,” he said. “That was a tough, tough league. It was a tremendous learning experience for me.”

 DeMoss, who received a few scholarship offers to play college soccer, graduated from Manual in 1974, but he did not go to college.

 “I was a fool. I thought I could just take a year off, or try to become a pro soccer player. I didn’t think I needed to go to college,” he said. “A year later, I told my dad that I wanted to revisit some of the scholarship offers, and he said, ‘its too late, Tony. Those scholarships are gone. You have to decide what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.’”

From player to coach

DeMoss obtained his ASAP certificate and got a job as an assistant boys soccer coach at Manual. In the early 80’s, he started the girls soccer program at Manual and got the opportunity to coach his daughter, Jessica.

 “I was still a player first. I had to learn how to put my playing days behind me and become a coach,” he said. “I went to coaching clinics and really worked hard at becoming a good coach. Denny Winkler (the Manual track coach for 30 years) helped me a lot. He taught me how to handle high school athletes.”

 DeMoss then went to Limestone, where he served as the boys soccer coach. He started the girls program there, too.

 “I enjoyed that challenge (of starting the girls program),” he said. “I always liked taking chances like that. I knew I would never be the type of coach to stay in one place for 30 years. I always went where there was a need.”

 He spent one year as head coach at Knox College before taking the East Peoria (boys and girls head coach) job.

 “My favorite memory from East Peoria came in 1999 or 2000. We were playing in the Notre Dame Tournament. We lost, 7-0, but there was this one kid for Notre Dame who got open and buried a goal into the back of the net. I was screaming, ‘whose mark was that?’ and some of my players said, ‘coach, that was your son (Nick) who scored,’” he said. “I was upset about the goal, but deep down, I thought, ‘yeah! That was pretty cool.’ I was so proud of him.”

 He took the Richwoods boys and girls head coach job in 2002.

 He said he has experienced many fond memories since coming to Richwoods, but nothing will ever beat his time with Courtney Holtz, the standout player who is now starting as a freshman at the University of Louisville.

 “She was a special young lady. I knew she was special the moment she came into our program five years ago,” he said. “She had tons of talent, but she was also a very hard worker, and she was unselfish. I truly believe that she wanted to go to State, not for herself, but so her teammates could experience that. Unfortunately, we never got there … I keep in touch with her. I always tell her I’m proud of her.”

Both sides of the line

DeMoss has been a licensed IHSA soccer referee for 17 years. It is unusual to find somebody who works on both sides of the lines, but DeMoss said he does not have a problem separating the two.

 “When I get between the white lines, I’m an official. I know the rules and I know how to officiate a game,” he said. “When I’m with my team, I’m a coach. It’s that simple. I don’t let one interfere with the other. If I’m coaching a game, and the official makes a bad call, then I’ll let him know about it, even if he is a friend of mine. I will always protect my players first. That’s what coaches do.”

 DeMoss said he knows there will come a day when he can no longer do both jobs, but, for now, he plans to work both sides of the lines.

 “I love being a referee,” he said. “It keeps me in shape, and helps keep some of the winter fat off. Besides, it has helped me so much. I’ve learned a lot about the game. As long as my health holds up, I’d like to continue to do both jobs.”

The right balance

DeMoss said this year has been the most challenging of his 31-year coaching career because he starts eight sophomores and the overall numbers in the soccer program are way down.

He said he has to find the right balance of patience and toughness when trying to mold this young team into a winner.

 “You know what? It’s actually gone pretty well. Yeah, we have a losing record, but I’m very proud of this team,” he said. “There are more important things than wins and losses. I want these kids to learn the game and to become better players. If, at the end of a practice, my players learn just one thing that they did not know before, then I have done my job.”

 The Knights lost two close games to the mighty Peoria Notre Dame Irish, who are ranked in the top 10 nationally, but DeMoss said those games showed him a lot.

 “We were so out-manned, but we played them tough,” he said. “We had nothing to be ashamed of. Notre Dame is Notre Dame. They have a great program there. But, we didn’t back down, and I told the kids they showed me what they are capable of. Now, we can build on that for the future.”

 DeMoss said he does not know how long he will continue to coach, but he said he will stay for at least two more years.

 “I want to see these sophomores become seniors,” he said. “They have been through a lot this year, and they will keep getting better and better. I want to be around for their Senior Night, so I can tell them how proud I am.”