Photo by Jeff Helmkamp
Edwardsville boys’ track and field head coach Chad Lakatos looks on during the recent Southwestern Illinois Relays. Lakatos is in his eighth season as the coach of the Tigers, as the team looks to defend its 2015 Class 3A state title.
EDWARDSVILLE — Chad Lakatos has made an enormous impact on the Edwardsville boys’ track program. Take it from Tigers’ director of athletics Brad Bevis.
He has seen it first-hand.
“Chad has taken it to a different level,” Bevis said of Lakatos, starting his eighth season as the EHS head coach. “It’s striving to be a Top 10 team at state every year instead of just every once in a while.”
That higher ground included Edwardsville’s first IHSA boys’ track championship last season. And the Class 3A crown wasn’t an unexpected result even though the Tigers won convincingly. They scored 55 points, or 18 more than runner-up Evanston.
The Tigers finished second to Roselle Lark Park in 2012 and Elmhurst York in 2014 before setting their sights on finishing first a year ago.
It’s sort of the Lakatos Way. The Harrisburg High graduate guided Herrin to back-to-back Class 1A championships in 2007-08 and those Tigers took third in 2006. His success at Herrin triggered Lakatos’ journey to Edwardsville and state success for another group of Tigers.
“I saw it as a challenge and a great opportunity,” Lakatos, 41, said of coming to Edwardsville. “I had accomplished my goals at Herrin and I didn’t leave on bad terms there.
“But I wanted to go somewhere bigger and I wanted the challenge.”
He met it head on, sticking to his principles he honed at Herrin. Tony Holler, who was his former coach at Harrisburg, gave him ample advice when Lakatos took the Herrin job more than a decade ago. Holler guided the Bulldogs to small-school state titles in 1995, 1999 and 2001.
“Tony helped me a lot and they were making a run at state,” Lakatos said. “Seeing that, I wanted to do that.”
Lakatos did it at Herrin and sought to do it at Edwardsville.
“The first year (at EHS) was hard because it was a transition year,” he said. “My overall philosophy is what it was at Herrin and I’ve treated both programs the same way. The difference is that there are more kids and more coaches here.”
The competition has increased, thanks to the track-happy Southwestern Conference. Nevertheless, the Tigers have held their own.
“Success breeds success,” Lakatos said. “When you are successful, better athletes want to be around that. And track is a numbers’ game. We have 90 kids out and about 70 of them played football.”
Bevis understands the football/track connection. He did both at EHS and directed the Tigers to a third-place finish in 2003, giving them their first team trophy. He gave up coaching to become AD and saw something in Lakatos as the guy to lead the program onward and upward.
“George Patrylak (head cross country) was the interim track coach at that time and we were looking for a head coach,” Bevis said. “Chad’s name came up in the conversation about it and we made a couple of phone calls.”
One thing led to another and Lakatos joined the EHS ranks. He also serves as an assistant football coach and teaches mathematics.
It proved to be a good move for all parties.
“The kids work hard and fast in track, but they have a lot of fun,” Bevis said of Lakatos’ style. “There’s good competition in practice and that’s why the kids really enjoy being on his team.”
They thoroughly enjoyed giving the Tigers an IHSA title last May at Eastern Illinois University’s O’Brien Field in Charleston.
“The state championship last year was a good example of what a team title is all about in track,” Bevis said. “It was a credit to Chad and his assistants.”
Thus far this season, the Tigers are pointed in the right direction. They finished second to Southwestern Conference rival East St. Louis in the Southwestern Illinois Relays at EHS and then took first with 170 points in the Gold Division of the 50th annual O’Fallon Relays.
Thrower A.J. Epensea, a junior bound for the University of Iowa to play football, leads the pack of Tigers. He’s capable of scoring big points at the state in the shot and discus. Epenesa was second in the discus and ninth in the shot last year. He won both of those events in the Southwestern Illinois Relays and the O’Fallon Relays.
“We want to win the conference championship and eventually, win state again,” Epenesa said. “All of us have to do our part.”
That teamwork approach appeals to Lakatos and he strives for it on the track and off of it, most notably with his family. Ally, his wife, is a physical therapist in the Edwardsville School District. Clayton (third grade) and Cruz (kindergarten) are their young sons.
On the track, he’s all about developing a one-for-all and all-for-one mood. Leadership is vital.
“Every year brings something different and different variables,” Lakatos said. “This year, we are trying to find guys who will lead this team.”
He’s pointing toward the second half of the season, namely the SWC meet (at Granite City), the sectional (at Collinsville) and the state finals (at Charleston) as the main stops.
“It’s not the ‘W’ that counts in track,” Lakatos said of wins and losses. “It’s about personal-bests, getting better and team chemistry. The biggest thing for me is to become more technically sound on each event and teach the kids to become more efficient.”
In that regard, Lakatos might be considered Edwardsville’s Efficiency Expert.