Big Blue football ready for action

After a tough season last year, the Big Blue football team is looking to turn things around, and they believe they hired just the man who can help them to do that: Dan Gritti.

Gritti has an impressive coaching background, starting off as an assistant coach in the Big Ten at Indiana University, working his way up to being a head coach at Rhodes College before finding a home at Millikin University. Success has seemed to follow him wherever he goes.

Gritti didn’t always foresee himself as a football coach.  In fact, he studied law.  He received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and U.S. History from Vanderbilt in 1995.  Although it was clear he was qualified to be a lawyer, he didn’t enjoy it.  He came to the realization that he would rather make a difference in young people’s lives as a football coach than sit alone in his office for several hours. With this sudden revelation, he began to pursue a career in coaching.

He served as an assistant coach at multiple programs, such as Indiana University, University of Chicago, and Middlebury College. While he worked as a defensive line and linebackers coach, Chicago obtained an 8-2 record and university Athletic Association title. Gritti’s defense was ranked in top 10 in aspects of defense and special teams.  The defense also ranked 3rd in the country for sacks and tackles for loss. They also were tied for most punts blocked for touchdowns in a single season.

Gritti finally got his big break as head coach at Rhodes College in 2010. As soon as he stepped onto the Rhodes campus, he felt like that was where he was meant to be. After having below average seasons in the years previous, Gritti took control of the program and completely turned it around.  In 2013, he led the Lynx to an 8-2 season and their first championship in 26 years.  With Gritti at the helm of the ship, he led his team into two back to back 8-2 seasons in 2013 and 2014.

Gritti served as coach at Rhodes for five years and tallied up 29 wins and 19 losses.  His defense also didn’t disappoint.  In 2014, Rhodes was ranked second in the country in team sacks with 41.  They were second in fourth down defense and 12th in tackles for a loss.  The Special Teams also played a pivotal role in the team’s success, placing in Top 30 NCAA Division III national rankings in multiple categories. Gritti stepped down as head coach in 2015 to continue his coaching success at Millikin University.

When asked why he came to Millikin, Gritti said, “I came to Millikin because of the commitment of a talented Athletic Director and President to be successful and not mediocre.” His second reason is “the ability to make a difference in the lives of kids who haven’t had every advantage but need someone to be the advocate and give them an opportunity.” The second reason rings true in his approach to coaching.

Gritti believes Division III is a second chance for those young athletes who may have been overlooked for whatever reason. A lot of times when people think of Division III, they tend to dismiss it.  They forget that there are great athletes playing. “A lot of these guys were the best or second best players on their teams,” Gritti said.

He says his program has some of the best athletes in the area, such as former Casey-Westfield quarterback Nicco Stepina, all conference second team player Sean Nicholson, standout lineman Travis Goveia, and senior defensive back Mykal Neal.

Division III athletes may not being getting the huge scholarships or focusing on possible NFL deals, but they are still amazing athletes who should not be underestimated. Success is not just expected on the field, but in the classroom as well.  As a former lawyer, it is easy to tell that Gritti is an intelligent man. He attributes that to a good education.

He wants his guys to have a chance at a great education just as he did, which means the effort in the classroom should translate onto the field.

He has made it clear that if any of his players are failing to achieve success in the classroom, they won’t see the field until their grades and GPA are brought up to standards.  His motto is that if he can’t trust you in the classroom, he can’t trust you on the field. It is also important to note that his guys aren’t meant to just excel in the classroom and field, but as respectable members of society.

People already look down on football players and see them as “big dumb jocks”.  He wants them to dispel this theory and break stereotypes by acting positively. He expects them to be respectful and to treat others the way they would like their family or themselves to be treated.

“If you wouldn’t be comfortable saying it to your mom or sister, then you shouldn’t be saying it,” Gritti said. He is trying to mold his team of young men into becoming men with great character once they have left Millikin. With the downfall of last season, the community is anxious for change and immediate success.  His team felt the same way. They wanted to go win a bunch of games and win a title.  Unfortunately, it is not that easy, and Gritti has made that clear.

He immediately let them know that they would have to work for that, and it wouldn’t be easy.  The reality of the situation is it is a rebuilding year, and usually, championships don’t come that early. His goal is to rebuild this program and continue to progress so it can be successful in future years.  He says it is about progress and commitment. He believes his team has fully bought into that idea. At the end of the day he wants them to ask themselves, “what can I do to make my team better?”

When asked about his goals on this upcoming season, it was quite simple.   He wants to see progress, explosiveness on offense, and most importantly, an outstanding academic performance. Lastly, when asked about what he enjoys about Millikin, Gritti said the diversity and the administration. He says “the administration is awesome”.  

It is clear that Gritti is fully committed to turning this program around and excited for the challenge. He is expecting to make this program successful for many years to come, and see himself here for a long time.