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Sept. 7, 2021

Kids Need to Know You Care Before Anything Else

Kids Need to Know You Care Before Anything Else

This is a podcast showcasing leaders who make a difference in people’s lives, and Todd Kuska has been doing just that for 26 years at St. Rita HS on the south side of Chicago. A science teacher, athletic director, & HFC, Coach Kuska graciously took a break from his game prep to talk about the mission of St. Rita High School, "to form each student as a whole person: spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, physically, and socially, and to provide its young men with the necessary skills to succeed in college and in life, leading to life-long learning and personal awareness."


Coach Kuska is the all-time wins leader in the prestigious history of St. Rita Football. Under his direction, the Mustangs won the IL Class 7A State Championship in 2006, 4 Chicago Prep Bowls and 7 Catholic League Championships.  He also has a State Runner-Up finish in 2019, has sent over 160 players to play collegiately (including 50 at the D1 level), and 8 of his former players made it all the way to the NFL. He’s a member of both the Chicago Catholic League and St. Rita hall of fame.

Despite his accolades, you will see Coach Kuska is humble, dedicated, and truly cares about ALL the students at SR.  He's focused on personal connections and helping kids realize that we're all a small part of something larger.

Episode Links:

St. Rita High School

St. Rita Football

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Transcript

Todd:

That's what I love about St. Rita we've got a variety of students from all kinds of backgrounds and, everybody deserves the respect and everybody deserves the same treatment and the same opportunities,

Luke:

Welcome to The "I" in Win Podcast. I'm your host, Luke Mertens. This is a podcast showcasing leaders who make a difference in people's lives, and our guests has been doing just that for 26 years at St. Rita High School on the south side of Chicago. Todd Kuska is a science teacher, athletic director and head football coach for the Mustangs. Despite opening a '21 season with three football powerhouses, he has graciously taken a break from his game prep to talk about the importance of impacting lives. Under his direction, the Mustangs won the Illinois class 7A state championship in 2006, 4 Chicago prep bowls and seven Catholic league championships. He also has a state runner up finished in '19, has sent over 160 players to college, including 50 at the division one level and eight of his from former players made it all the way to the NFL. He's a member of both the Chicago Catholic league and St. Rita hall of fame. And even with all those accolades, including being the all-time wins leader into the prestigious history of St. Rita football, you will see coach Kuska is humble, dedicated, and truly cares about all students at St. Rita. In this episode. Coach shares what brought him back to his alma mater. how he aligns has football program with St. Rita's mission to form each student as a whole person, the importance of showing kids, you care about them and how his teaching and coaching style has impacted his own sons who have been at his side during his whole tenure at St. Rita. And with that, I give you Mr. Todd Kuska Thanks for being on the show today. Really appreciate it. I know you've got a huge week ahead, Evie, a game week, and I also know that you are a enthusiastic white Sox fan. So yeah, we have a lot of, a lot of listeners that aren't from the Chicago area and, uh, may not be familiar with the dynamics of the city. So I have to start with this. What type of white Sox fan are you? Are you the type that hates the Cubs or are you the type that says, Hey, I'm a Chicago fan and I want everyone to do

Todd:

well. Well, I'd say, well, thanks first off. Thanks Luke. For having me. It's an honor to be out here. Um, I am a white Sox fan, um, through and through, but I am not a Cub hater. I've got a lot of family. Uh, unfortunately family had a lot of friends that are Cubs fans, so I don't outwardly cheer against the Cubs. I just cheer more for the socks.

Luke:

Well, you're, you're a better man than a lot of, uh, a lot of other white Sox fans, including myself to be totally Frank with you. So, um, you know, the other thing I mentioned in the introduction that you are a science teacher and, uh, one thing I always received throughout my career is:wow. You know, you're an English teacher and a football coach at such a, such an odd combination. And I always almost had a justify it. I'm assuming you kind of get some of those same things with being a science teacher. So I was just kind of curious about what led you to that path of being a science teacher, in addition to your passion for football

Todd:

Well, it's a very interesting story of where I started off. Um, I originally graduated, uh, with a bachelor's of science in nursing and I began working as a nurse and coaching in college at St. Xavier university. And when. The, you know, the coaching bug just really took over. It was really a nightmare trying to, you know, work the night shift and then go in and coach college football, um, pretty much on two to three hours of sleep. Uh, so a job, it actually opened up in, in my high school St. Rita high school, uh, for a science position. And I just said, you know, Well, let me give that a shot in, uh, you know, I, they, they granted me the position and obviously I did well in school. Um, so they said, Okay. well, you got to work back towards your teaching certificate, everything. And I, and I did that and, you know, meanwhile, I'm two years into it. Uh, our head coach moved on in, uh, I was very fortunate enough to get the job, the head job, and it just stayed in the science department, you know, and I, and I love it. You know, I, I actually, uh, became the athletic director last year in the worst year of all years in history to become an athletic director. Um, yeah. Yeah. And, and it actually, you know, being that I still was in a classroom for one, uh, my human anatomy classes in, in, uh, this year, I begged to get back into classroom a little bit more in kind of a handoff, some of the duties of the ADA through my associate athletic director, Michael Bryan. So I could get back into the classroom and teach some more, you know, I think, uh, it is a little strange people do say, ah, you're a science teacher and a football coach, you know, shouldn't you be a gym teacher, you know? And I always say, Hey, I strive to be a gym teacher.

Luke:

Yeah.

Todd:

I would love to come to school in shorts and a t-shirt, you know, but, uh, you know, teaching, teaching sciences grades, uh, it being with the kids and you know, that being with kids more. Yeah, it keeps you younger. It keeps you in touch with them, uh, seeing them in and out of the classroom. You know, you really get to know kids a little bit better than just seeing them on a football field. So it's, it's, it's a great advantage to being in the classroom. And, you know, in science is just something I had a great background in and really interests me.

Luke:

That's. Yeah, that's awesome. And you know, let's be honest. It also adds a little bit of a validity to your message of, Hey, you know, we are students first and, you know, you're, you're modeling that as, as the head coach, which is awesome. And, you know, you mentioned your school St. Rita, which, uh if I'm doing my math correctly, I believe is this is the hundred and 16th year. Is that correct for St. Rita?

Todd:

Yes, I believe. Yes. I believe your math is correct. Yes. It's been a long time.

Luke:

And, you know it's a, it's a mainstay in Chicago land area, you know, you're not going to find anyone that has not heard of St. Rita and you've made a decision to stay there, your whole career. And I'm just making assumptions that you've had some possibilities at some other places, but what is it about St. Rita that is such a special place that you went there as a student and you have decided to stay there throughout your whole career as a teacher.

Todd:

Yeah. Well, people ask that a lot and you know, it's, it's not really an easy question to answer. It's an, I tell people, you know what, it's something you feel it's, uh, you know, the teach and to coach at your Alma mater, but, at a place like St. Rita high school. For me, it's a second home. You know, 116 years and, and you're a part of it. We're a part of the fabric of everyday life of these kids. And I see in my players, my students, the exact same characters and mannerisms that I had as, as a young man going there. And, and what St. Rita helped form me into, you know, I'm proud to be a, a pretty good man father and everything. Um, we were trying to do that for these guys as well. So it is kind of a bit of a calling, um, you know, to be there for so long and, and Yeah. and there have been some opportunities and things and you know, what the funny thing is that, you know, I have two young sons. I actually not that young anymore. Jake is 19 and Joey is a current junior who's, uh, 16. Um, Jake graduated from senior to two years ago. Those guys grew up with St. Rita and I remember anytime I was approached with any other opportunities I talked to those guys about it, and I remember, my older son, Jake saying. Well, what do you mean, dad? What, what do you mean that you might not be at St. Rita because that's where we're going to be, you know, and, and in right then and there, you know, that solidified, you know, I'm sure my wife, wasn't always happy about those decisions to stay in private school, but, uh, you know that that's, what's kept us there and I'm, I'm very proud to have my son graduate a couple of years back and very proud of Joey, uh there now as a student and, and looking forward to that graduation, you know, it's funny. Was at 24 graduations in the one I was waiting for. Was my oldest son and COVID, and we didn't even have it really. We had something, but it wasn't real. So, you know, looking forward to the next graduation that we can hopefully all be there for

Luke:

Well, you know, and my background is English and in that realm, we would call that irony. So, uh, but mentioned that the word we, when you're talking about St. Rita, which really stuck out to me, and I just love the school's mission statement, and I'm not gonna read the whole thing, but there's a piece in there that it mentions that St. Rita and I quote, aims to form each student as a whole person, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, physically, and socially. And that statement goes on and it's just something that I know I feel very passionate about. And I agree wholeheartedly with the role of a school. And, uh, I would just like to talk a little bit about that mission statement and the involvement of St. Rita football in particular, and looking for some specific examples that you do as a head coach and how you institute that into your program and how you aim to form each student that you coach as a whole person.

Todd:

Well, you know, we, we try to take a look at it and obviously it's St Rita it's, uh, you know, there's a lot that goes into it. You know, we just finished, uh, this past weekend obviously, uh, was our like scrimmage football wise and our freshmen have an overnights kind of retreat which is a, a great way that we kind of start things off. Um, kind of implementing everything that we talk about with St. Rita being just a place to, that's not, you're not just going to come and learn, you're going to come and grow. You're going to become better men. We want to have people out there turning into, you know, even better men, that they are better sons, better brothers, hopefully great husbands, great fathers. Uh, but that's what we try to do. And we try to do that through everything that we do. You know, we are a Catholic school, but we are not. Um, just Catholics, you know, we have plenty of different religious backgrounds in school. And all we say is when we do go to our mass, obviously it's, it's a, it's a Catholic mass, but it's a place for spiritual growth for people and for us as a school to come back together. And I think that's something that we're really looking forward to this year. Um, being able to have that spiritual time, that mass together where we, we do become, you know, one family.You know, this Friday actually is, is we're celebrating the feast of Saint Augustan and, you know, St. Rita was an Augustinian nun. And you know, all of our priests are of the Augustinian order. So it's a big day for us. Uh, it's also the first mass of the school year for us and kind of a introduction for our freshmen, you know, of, of coming into the school and, and, and realizing, Hey, You know, it's great, you know, it's great. It's, you know, we, we play great sports. We play, we, we learn, you know, at the top-notch level. Uh, but we're also gonna grow spiritually and we're gonna, we're going to grow as a family, you know, to where these guys feel a part of it, you know? And, and so it starts from their freshman year and, and things that we do throughout the football program to even make that better. We, I do a program like a leadership program where have our guys divided up and, and they, they, they pick teams. We have leadership council and the seniors and juniors, they kind of guide the freshmen and sophomores along and we'll have outings where we'll get together and you know, it won't be football related, you know, we'll do, we'll do fun activities together. We, we. W we'll go to like top golf. We'll have a good, good outing there. We'll do some, you know, we even did bowling before anything that we can bring our guys together from different backgrounds, from different religions, different, you know, um, ethnic groups to make everybody realize that. You're at St. Rita, but we're one Right, now, you know, it doesn't matter. And especially all this stuff that's been going on in the world, you know, it's, it's, uh, you know, it's throwing the world for a loop. And I think over at St. Rita, you know, we we've been working on things, uh, all along, you know, to make sure that everybody feels at one as one and, and pretty inclusive and, and working towards that mission statement of, being a part of something bigger than ourselves. That's what we talk about, at St Rita and I talk about that at football. You're not a part of this on your own. You know, we have over 25,000 graduates in our history, you know, And Father Tom McCarthy who was was our former president and who's coming back in different roles, always said when you graduate, you're walking on the shoulders of those 25,000 people before us. And, we try to make our guys see that in everything that we do.

Luke:

And one thing you said in that I just loved is, you know, St. Rita is just not a place to learn. It's a place to grow. And I just think that it gives such a great visual of what it is that, that you guys are doing over there and what it is that we're trying to talk about within this podcast. And you also mentioned the idea of Friday game day, right? Like that, that's such a, that's such a special day in so many schools across America and you're going to be having mass. Now I realize that there's plenty of listeners that are not affiliated with religious schools and maybe that's not an option, but maybe there's something else that they could tie into that. So my point is, how does the mass impact the performance on the field? I feel like it may, in a way, you know, not that obviously the, the priest is giving a "win one for the Gipper speech", but I was just kind of curious as if you seen a connection between that, that moment of spirituality and then what the kids have to do a couple hours from then.

Todd:

Well, I I'll tell you what it's interesting like this Friday is a mass day for the whole school, you know, if there is no mass we have a football mass, you know, it gives our guys a chance to quiet down, um, internally, you know, I mean so much in our daily lives, especially these kids nowadays, you know, their cell phones or iPads or computers, or Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, all this stuff we go to mass it's a chance to quiet down and, you know, whether they're paying attention to every word that the priest are saying they're at peace with themselves. You know the coolest thing that I, I, you know, it's really neat, especially in an all boys high school, you know, we go over to the, the shrine of St. Rita a statute that goes back to the old school, 1905. And, uh, we go over there. We say a quick prayer, and then we sing, the hymn to St. Rita. And it's just us. It's just the football guys. It's, it's a cool experience to see, and it really gets these guys a believing, in, Hey, it isn't just about me. It's not just about scoring touchdowns. It's about being a part of something being. A part of, not just the football program, but being a part of St. Rita High School, who has been on the south side of Chicago for 116 years. And it's, it's not just about sports. It's not just about the academics. It's about, Hey, it's a place, it's a home, you know? I mean, you hear people talk all the time about the stories that led them to St.Rita and bring them back to St. Rita.

Luke:

Well, I'll be honest with the coach. You fired me out, man. I mean, who would ever thought about talking about mass would fire me up, but I don't know what eligibility I have left and I'll be honest. I don't think I could help your team. Your players aremuch better than me, but I'm ready, man. Like, that's awesome. You know, you've touched upon a couple things that I want to dig a little deeper into, and that was, uh, kids today. And honestly, it's, it's different, right? And I think kids today get a bad reputation in my humble opinion. I don't know if it's always justified. Um, so I just want to talk about the difference in coaching kids today, because you have been coaching for a while and you know, I'm not saying you're old. but, uh, I was curious about what you saw on, in differences in coaching kids today compared to when you first started your career. And, um you know, why it's more important now than ever to coach the whole person. And why that fits in even more so now, because you've already touched upon it a little bit talking about the world today, but why it's more important now that you are fulfilling that mission of the school and your football program of cultivating the whole person.

Todd:

Yeah. That's a great question. I go back and forth when they say kids are different. Yeah, some kids are different, but I think people have expectations. And I always say, it's not about expectations. It's about earning, you know? And, and that's the biggest thing that I think we have to try and get across to these guys because yeah, in today's world, everybody expects everything. At least that's what we see, you know? Cause you, you watch the different sports, whether it's college or NFL or, you know there's a lot more guys that are doing it for attention than doing it, to be a part of the team, and I stress that, Hey, you want to be a part of the team. You've got to earn your spot on the team. You know, you have to earn that and that, that recognition that you want, you know, um, and the best example, uh, the kid we have now is great football player, probably the best football player ever had, uh, Kaleb Brown. And, and he came up with us late in his freshman year and I had a talk with him and I said, Hey, I know you're reading things but trust me, you need to be with your freshman. You need to be with your group of classmates and you need to earn the respect from everybody else and earn your spot and he did. Here he is, his senior year right. now, you know, ranked I'm pretty much the best player in Illinois and, and going to Ohio state. And him he's earned that, you know, and I think a lot of kids nowadays come on board and they just expect, you know, they expect all I'm coming to St. Rita. That means I've got to be a great football player. That means I'm going to get a great, I'm going to whatever college I want to study in. Uh, you know, and you know, what we have to do as coaches, we have to reel them in a little bit. And I think we have to reel them in a lot more than we had to 10, 15 years ago. And, you know, I think even now more so than ever, we, as high school coaches have to reel kids in a little bit and, and ground them, to say, Hey, you know, put your phone down, put your iPad down. It's time to listen, learn and earn things instead of expecting, you know, expectations are great, but you got to earn it first.

Luke:

Yeah. And, you know, I mean, how awesome is that, that you have someone that at that high level of talent and still willing to earn his stripes for lack of a better term. And I've heard you say, it's not just about championships. It's about lessons you learn. Would you say that concept of, of focus, you know, you said putting your phones down and focusing on the task at hand and earning. Earning, whatever it is that you're trying to achieve. Would you say those are the big lessons that you're trying to teach within your program?

Todd:

Yeah, I think so. And, and that goes from any level player in, in, you know, and it's not about just the big division one players, it's about everybody. And I think that's something we try to get everybody on board with that. Hey. Everybody's got a role and whether your role is to fill that guy's water bottle cause he's tired during this play and get it to them. That's an important role. You know, and it's just, it's just like today we are out there, it was a hard practice, you know, and, and I'm watching and saying, man, you know, these guys in a blue shirt unit, you know, the, the second team guys, you know, they're working their butts off and, and we stress to them. Hey, you work your butts off to get the guys in the first string better and to push those guys. And if those guys falter. Uh, and slip, then you take their job and then it's their job to push you. And you also, just because you're not starting, it doesn't mean you're not as important to the team. And that is important to their coaches, you know, because most of my coaches, I'm very fortunate to have a great staff of a, you know, a lot of our alumns, a lot of guys now are guys that I've coached. Um, so they've been through the program and they get that and they understand that. It's funny. I have to kind of reel those guys because you know, every class that graduates always says, oh man, these guys got us so much better than we had it.

Luke:

Oh, yeah.

Todd:

my young coaches are always like, Oh, geez, you take it easy on these guys. You don't run them as hard, you know? And I say, guys, relax. Will ya?. You know, everybody comes back and says that. So.

Luke:

Yeah. Every, every alum I had on my staff's like, man, coach Mertens you've chilled out,

Todd:

Yeah, exactly. And, you know, obviously we changed through time kits have changed the ability that we have to coach them has changed, but the angles of which that we have to approach them have all changed in those angles. Uh, are, are dealing with, you know, some of the problems that are in the world now and the technology that these guys have and, and, you know, the ease of some of the stuff, you know, and I talk in my classes today about, you know, technology advancing and, gosh, you guys don't have to remember anything anymore because it's all on your phone. I go, but you're not challenging your brains, you know? And I, I want our guys to challenge our minds in the classroom and I challenge them on the football field. Don't memorize what play it is know why you're doing it, you know, because if you understand why you're doing it, that everything in your life, if you understand it, you're going to be able to do it better and you're going to commit more to it. If you understand the, the means to the end and not just the result, you know, you want to move on to enjoy the journey, you know,

Luke:

Completely agree. And it's funny, you brought up the why. I think that's what this generation really gets criticized for. They're always asking why they just won't do what they're told. And I've always been in the mindset in my classroom. And as a coach, like, don't, we want them to ask why, because I agree with you. If they know why they're going to understand the whole process of why we're asking them to do what they're doing. And if they understand that they're more likely to. Achieve the goals we want for them. So now, you know, here, here's the tough part. Um, you know, we are in alignment with this idea of cultivating and the whole person

Todd:

Yeah.

Luke:

I know. And you know that this has contributed to the success you're having. Professionally and personally, so let's start with the professional side of things like, and I know it's kind of hard to quantify, but how do you think your approach of coaching the person rather than just focusing on winning is contributing to success on the field, which by the way, another example of irony there, right? Like the idea of not focusing on winning is actually helping you to win more. Can you speak a little bit to that and that intangible to actually helping St Rita football be more successful?

Todd:

Yeah, Well, I, I think, you know, I've heard a lot of people say this and a lot of our coaches and we, we kind of strive to do this across at St. Rita is, you know, the, the kids have got to know that you care about them. Before they care what you're going to tell them. And you know, if they understand where you were coming from and that, you know, Hey, I've walked in your shoes, you know, I've been down this path. It might not be the exact same path, but I've been here and I'm trying to lead you through the pitfalls that I've been through. And that's when they start to really. Believe and care, you know, so I think it's huge that we do have a lot of alums on our staff and, not just football, but in the classroom, you know, we've got a lot of people that are connected, whether they're alumni or they're they're mothers of, of, of alums or wives of alumns, you know, and, and when the kids see that, Hey, you're here for the right reason. You know, maybe I should start to listen a little bit more, you know, and they start to, you know, so they have to know that you care before they care what you're telling them. And I think that goes a long way in terms of getting their attention and the buy-in of what you're trying to get them to do, you know? Cause it's not easy in today's world by any means for, for kids. It really isn't. And it's a tough world out there. There's a lot of pitfalls, a lot more pitfalls now than there ever were and keeping those guys on a right path. You know, it's, it's not just going to come from us saying it or writing it on the board. They've got to see that we really care about them in order for them to say, okay, you know what, they're doing this for the right reason. Maybe I should listen. And once they do that, you know, then you've got them. And when I say you got them, then you you've got them believing in the overall mission of St. Rita, the overall mission of just, Hey, being a better person, you know, cause guys, God knows the world needs a lot of good people, you know? And, uh, And, and, and now more than ever, you know, and, and we're doing our part in every, you know, and everybody is trying, you know, their own way. Everybody's got their own philosophies and ways, and these are just the ways that we've been using it at St. Rita that seemed to work for us, you know, 116 years. Hey, we're still alive and kicking and we're kicking pretty well. You know? So, that's what we gotta do. And it doesn't happen overnight. You know, some guys don't get it until their senior year. Some guys get it early and those are the guys that then help and encourage those other guys. And I love peer leadership. I love it when kids grasp that concept and they buy in and when they buy in, man, it's great to get the other kids on board, but you gotta make sure that they understand that you care about them before they really care about what's you're saying.

Luke:

Love it. I completely agree. And you know, it's, it's the concept of, show them that you care about them as a person, and then they're more likely to be at your morning workout or whatever it is that you do. Right. Because let's face it, you know, especially a sport like football. It's really hard and it's a year round sport, if you want to be successful. So the only way they're going to want to be around you is if you show them that you care. But yeah, that's a phenomenal response. And, you know, moving on to the, to the personal side of things, you mentioned you have two sons and I have, you know, I have two kids and I've argued that since having children I'd become such a better coach, right? Like it just, it, it changes your perspective on so many things, especially if your kids play sports, right. Because they're coming home and talking about their experiences, but your sons have been around you as the head football coach of St. Rita their entire life. It's all that they know. How do you think the way that you coach and the way you mentor your athletes and your students in the classroom, how do you think that has impacted your two boys upbringing?

Todd:

Well, you know, I, I hope it's impacted them well. I believe I've got two great kids. Um, the funny thing is my older son never played football. But he was my manager and. Let me tell you it was, I wouldn't trade him as a manager for any player in the world because the things that he did, uh, helping me as a football coach on the field and off the field, uh, was, was, it's just, uh, numerous things that he can do and, and, you know, and, and having him be around me, um, you know, I hope I, and I believe I've impacted him well, To, to make good decisions and to, and, uh, treat everybody with respect and to know that, Hey, there's, there's different walks of life. That's what I love about St. Rita. We've got a variety of students from all kinds of backgrounds and, and you know what everybody deserves the respect and everybody deserves the same treatment and the same opportunities. You know, so I hope that I've shown them the example of, Hey, everybody deserves a shot. Everybody deserves attention. Everybody deserves a chance to earn something in, uh, you know, you treat people, right and they're gonna, they're gonna treat you right as well. You know, and I hope that's something that we're passing on to all these guys and, you know, it's, uh, it's an honor to be a part of St. Rita and it's an honor to continue to coach the football team. And, you know, the thing I love the most is when kids come back. And just for the heck of it and it just come back to visit, you know, what, you know, whether they're in college or not. And that's when you kind of know. Hey, you know, not just myself, but we're doing something right. You know, we're, we're doing it the right way. And, and, uh, giving these guys a chance to come back home but, uh, you know, that's, that's, that's what we're talking about. Trying to get these connections with kids to give them something that they know. It's more than football. It's more than academics, it's even more than just social and spiritual. It's, it's a total package. And when you get kids to buy into that, then, then St. Rita really is that second home for them. And, you know, unfortunately some kids it's their first home, and, we're happy to be that place for guys in, in, and to take that role, if that's what we have to do for them.

Luke:

Right. And it's teaching, coaching parenting. Unfortunately we don't know our direct impact until yeah. Years down the road, the future, right? So, you know, the day comes one in, if your sons are fathers, you watch how they father you'll understand the impact that you, that you did have on them and how they did watch the way you treated everybody and your idea of inclusion and that everybody matters. And, you know, speaking about the future. I mean, let's face it. You're at a school with big expectations. There's, there's a lot of pressure to win football games at St. Rita, probably more pressure to win football games at St. Rita than a lot of other schools. So looking into the future, how do we keep the focus on making better people and not getting sucked into that black hole of winning.

Todd:

Yeah, well, I, you know, it's, it's hard in today's world, you know, obviously it's, it's the, you know, what have you done for me lately? That's what everybody looks at. But, you know, I just gave the talk to our guys, uh, yesterday and today, and I said, look, you know, Uh, if we go out and we play as hard as we can, and it doesn't fall the way we want. I said, I'm going to be happy for us. You know, obviously I'll be disappointed because yes, you want to win. But I said in the overall grand scheme of life, all you can ask for is the opportunity to get out there and do your best, you know, and granted we've been very fortunate that a lot of times, our best is enough to get a win, but I've been around and we've played some teams that it wasn't, and I always say the same line and it's kind of a cliche. Um, you know, and I tell guys, Hey, if this is the worst thing that ever happens to you in your life, You're going to be all right? You know, you're going to get over this and, and, and kids are resilient, you know, they really are. And I find, you know, earlier on in my career, man, I took losses harder than anybody could imagine, you know? And I come back the next day and I'm like, wow, these kids, they're not, uh, they're not heartbroken right now. You know? And, and I realized that kids are resilient. And they reflect what we reflect, and if we sit there and sulk in, in, are mad and angry about every little thing, then they're going to do that too. And we have to show them that. Going out and giving your best is all we can ask for. Yeah, We want to win. And if we don't, we, we got to take pride in the fact that we did our best and that, you know, what, if it wasn't, we're going to get better and we got to work at it, you know? And I told her guys today, I said, if you, if you don't get better today, you got worse. Cause out there your opponents are. I said, and, and then that's not just in a football thing, that's in anything. you know?

Luke:

the lesson to life.

Todd:

Yeah. If you're not working hard every day, you're falling behind, you know, so it's, it's tough. There is pressure to, to win, you know, and I'll be honest. Uh, you know, if you think about that, It's gonna, it's gonna eat you up, you know, and, and I I'd be foolish to say, I don't expect to win X. Everybody expects to win every day, you know, but you know, you have to trust in the fact of what you're doing is the right way to do it. And if you get the kids believe in it and if they're playing, And they're doing, they're working hard, then that's what you got, you know, and, and you're not always going to win, you know, obviously you want that success because it's, you know, like you said in today's world, it's that it's, that everybody's looking for that score. Everybody's looking for that, you know, but you gotta take some solace in the fact that you're doing it the right way, obviously we want to win, but. We want our guys to do the best that they can in, in, you know, it's, it's thinks if you don't get the victory, but if you did your best, that's all you can ever ask for. And, and really that's what you asked for in life, you know, to do your best every day.

Luke:

And, and that even within itself is a life lesson, right.

Todd:

right.

Luke:

you've been doing, you've been doing all this work and now suddenly you're on stage and you have to perform, right. I mean, there's so many analogies as if, you know, going into a job interview or whatever, it may be like it's time to perform and you have to be at your best. And if you're not at your best, you have to sit back and evaluate what is it that I could have done differently to have been at my best. But I'm sorry to interrupt. Go ahead.

Todd:

Oh, No. problem. And I, you gotta have fun. And I tell ya, it's a football game, man. You know, I tell everybody it's a football game. You've been playing football your whole life. You know, if you, if you're nervous about it, you're not going to do as well. You got to loosen up and, and you know, and Hey, not, everybody's going to be perfect. You know, you got to loosen up, have fun and, and trust in the work that you've done and the work that you've earned the spot to be there. And that's what getting back to that earning, Hey, trust that. You're your. You're in the right spot and things are going to go well and if it doesn't, we'll get through it together

Luke:

Speaking of fun, let's talk about what was probably a really awesome experience for you. And that was a super bowl, 55. What an unique story? Um, you know, you get to sit there and watch a game at so many of us watch, but yeah. Totally different vested interests. And that is you have an alum. Mike Kafka 2005 alum who's quarterback coach at Kansas City. You have player Pat O'Connor, who's a 2012 alum, I believe. And, you know, he plays defensive end with Tampa, and here you are watching two of your alums competing, maybe not directly against each other, but nonetheless competing against each other. And that was just a curious, what that experience was like for you as a coach sitting there watching that game that so many of us watch.

Todd:

You know what that was awesome. The year before, uh, mike kafta won the super bowl as one of the coaches for the Chiefs. But to have Mike coaching for the chiefs and then Pat O'Connor playing for the Bucs. You know I told a lot of people, a lot of people were asking. I said, Hey, all I know is a Mustang is winning the Super Bowl. Whatever happens. Someone's walking away with a ring you know, Mike's got a ring and I know he'll have plenty of opportunities. And, and pat, you know, as a player, I, I was said as players, you don't have as many opportunities, I was pulling for him to do it too. And, uh, you know, I just said, I'm going to be happy for, for either of them, but you know, when you think couldn't the two of them have gotten a picture together, I, I asked them both before the game and they both promised me and I told Mike the coach, you got to take the lead on this. Pat's a defensive lineman for goodness sakes. He's got other things on his mind, but, uh, Yeah,

Luke:

well, in fairness, I don't know if Kafka wanted to take a picture at that moment, but I get, I get it.

Todd:

Yeah, but what a problem moment for all of us as St. Rita. I mean, to see guys make it to the ultimate goal. What kid doesn't dream. Um, playing and winning a super bowl and to have two of my guys do it. And, you know, I entered, uh, Derrius Fleming a few years before won the super bowl for the Patriots. And, he came back and gave me the golden football and what, what an awesome honor that was and just. Just to see these guys achieve their dreams. You know, I mean, how many times as a football coach, do we see kids? You know, every kid's dreaming about winning the super bowl and to see them actually put the time and effort and earn the spots to not only get to the NFL. But then they get to the ultimate game, you know, what a treat it was.

Luke:

And and coach, I really appreciate your time. We're, we're winding down. I have just a couple last things I want to throw your way. And one about that point of Derrius Fleming bringing the golden football and, I read a great article about the super bowl and with Kafka and O'Connor and, you mentioned that whenever you reach out to Kafka or O'Connor how quick these guys are to get back to you. And I'm sure there is Fleming is the same way. What does that tell you about your program?

Todd:

Well, you know, it's awesome. It really is. You know, especially these guys are, are, are in that, that ultimate spot in here, I'm just their coach back in Chicago texting them, Hey, how's it going? And boom, they sent her a reply right back, you know, and I'll say, you know, Kenny Galladay who plays receiver for that for the giants now, same thing. It's funny. I'm, I'm sitting there in, uh, you know, my, my younger son is talking about his fantasy football team and, and I'm like, well, let me, let me see how Kenny feels about this week. You know, I shoot him a text and bam, five minutes later, he responds, you know, I mean, it's really cool. It, it helps me believe in and understand that, Hey, I think we're getting through to these guys. I think these guys are seeing the picture that at a, not just about, you know, it's not just about football, it's about relationships. It's about, uh, about caring about each other. And, and like I said, I, I think, you know, we do a great job as a staff and I'm not taking all the credit is that we've got a lot of guys from freshmen coaches all the way to varsity and teachers and everybody at St. Rita that really gets kids believing that. Hey, you're always going to be a part of us. So don't be afraid to show that and don't be afraid to come back to school. A couple of years ago when a Pat O'Connor, who's now with the Bucs, and Kenny Galladay, um, they were both drafted on Saturday night, And Monday morning at eight o'clock in the morning, they were both at St. Rita because we honored them at mass. You know, we honor them in the chapel and you know, here's two guys. No, they were both drafted in the NFL. And what are they doing on Monday morning they're at their high school, you know, talking to kids and taking pictures. I think we do. I think we do a pretty well there and I. Programs and other schools are doing a great too, you know, it's just, and that's what we all need. We all need to get these young kids believe in it. They're a part of something bigger than just themselves when we all do that. Well, uh, you know, we're, we're going to have a great world, and we're going to be able to, to get through some of the trying times that we have ahead. So, it's just making those connections with people. It's, it's what, it's all about.

Luke:

Right. And, and as you wrap up this interview, um, That just speaks volumes, you know, your story of them being there on Monday and being honored after just being drafted and just speaks volumes about your program, but you know what Todd, it speaks volumes about you. And I know you're a humble guy and I don't, I don't want you to be uncomfortable, have to brag about yourself, but I just want to say that it does really speak to what type of person you are and the type of coach you are. And you know, that, that leads me to, uh, to legacy. I, I know you still have a lot of gas left in there. But you've dedicated your life to Catholic education. You've dedicated your life to St. Rita in a particular. And, um, I just want to wrap this up with your thought of legacy and, um, what do you hope your legacy, your lasting impression on the St. Rita community will be.

Todd:

Well, I just hope that they see that hard work, dedication and making, uh, making a connection, uh, in everything that you do, whether it's from, from football or in the classroom, you know, we make an impact on these kids' lives. And sometimes we may be the only impact that happens. Uh, you know, every interaction we have with a kid might be. The old, the, the, the lasting interaction. And it might be that impact that they need to go forth in life and do something really well, you know? And you never know when that is. So trying to make a connection with kids, trying to, you know, let them know that, Hey, I've been in your shoes, man, and I'm here for you, you know? And I think that's something that we really do well at Rita. And I'd like to say that. Yes. I believe I, I try to do as Well, as I possibly can. And that's what I hope, I hope people remember that and remember that, Hey, we do have an impact. And, I like to think that I've impacted some kids, and, and help them out, and if that can get them to make that impact on other people, then that's really what it's all about.

Luke:

Well, I appreciate you taking the time to answer all of our questions and have this awesome conversation and to fire me up and wish that I still had some juice left in the tank and I could play high school football, but I know that, uh, you have a game in a few days, and the fact that you took time away from your game prep, you have this lengthy conversation also just goes to show how important this concept of cultivating, the whole person really is to you because a lot of other coaches at this time, they're like, you know what? Sorry, Luke, I don't have time for an interview. I need to do work on my X's and O's I need film evaluation. And I, I really appreciate you taking that time cause I know how valuable time is. And, uh, I have no doubt about that, the legacy that you're creating and we'll leave at St. Rita and on the entire south side. And with that, I, I wish you a lot of luck this season and looking for, uh, for huge things out of the, out of the Mustangs this year. So thanks again for taking the time, coach.

Todd:

No problem. Thanks Luke. Thanks for having me. It's an honor to get a chance to sit here and talk about this. And it's a very worthy conversation that needs to be had by a lot of people.

Luke:

Thanks for listening. It's clear what a great teacher coach and even better human being Todd is. My three key takeaways from our conversation are: One, the importance of creating a family atmosphere, especially when in a diverse environment. Two kids need to know you care about them before they care about what you're going to say to them And three, every kid deserves to be treated with respect and be given equal opportunity to be successful. If you know of a leader who is making an impact, please send me an email with who and why. There are so many awesome stories of people changing lives. I want to showcase them. My email address is located in the show notes. And as always, please consider subscribing and sharing The "I" in Win Podcast

Todd Kuska Profile Photo

Todd Kuska

Athletic Director/Head Football Coach/Science Teacher

Coach Kuska graduated from St. Rita in 1990. He won Catholic League Championship in both his Junior and Senior years. He was also a Captain on that 1989 Championship team. He went on to St. Xavier University where his playing career was ended due to an injury. This injury, however, forced him into coaching and his career has taken off ever since. From 1993 to 1996, he coached the Linebackers and Defensive Line at St. Xavier. In 1996, he returned to his alma mater, St. Rita, to coach the Offensive Line. In the spring of 1998, Coach Kuska was named the Head Varsity Football Coach at St. Rita.

Under his direction, the Mustangs won the IHSA Class 7A State Championship in 2006, the Chicago Prep Bowl in 2007, 2009, 2013, and 2018 and seven Catholic League Blue Championships (2002, ’03. ’06, ’08, 10, '13, and ‘19). Coach Kuska has had over 160 players that played football in college, 50+ have played at the Division 1 level. He has coached two US Army All-Americans (Ryan Donahue '06 -Iowa and Darius Fleming '08-Notre Dame). Eight of his players have played in the NFL (Kevin Carberry ‘01—various teams, Mike Kafka '05--Philadelphia Eagles, Ryan Donahue ‘06—Detroit Lions, Matt Conrath '07--St. Louis Rams, Darius Fleming ’08--New England Patriots, Bruce Gaston '10--Chicago Bears, Kenny Golladay ‘12--Detroit Lions and Pat O’Connor ‘12--Tampa Bay Buccaneers). Three of them (Fleming, Kafka, O’Connor) have Super Bowl rings having played or coached for the Patriots, Chiefs and Buccaneers, respectively.

Coach Kuska was named the EdgyTim Illinois High School Coach of the Year in 2006. He was the Tom Lemming Prep Report (NCSA) High School Coach of the Year in 2009. In the fall of 2010, Coach Kuska was named one of the Top Coaches under 40 by American Football Monthly.