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Former EIU football assistant joining defending FCS champ
PHILADELPHIA – Nick Kray arrived at Eastern Illinois seven years ago as a preferred walk-on defensive lineman. One red-shirt season and four years playing later, Kray transitioned to a defensive quality control coach with the Panthers for the 2008 season with some work coaching EIU’s defensive line.
A year of breaking down film and working with the Panthers’ defensive line later, an opportunity arose for an assistant coaching job at Villanova. Villanova assistant coach Brian Flinn, a former EIU wide receivers coach, contacted current EIU associate head coach/defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni before the 2009 season about Kray possibly applying for that opening.
Instead, Kray stuck with the Panthers for another season with an opportunity to be a position coach working with EIU’s defensive ends.
A year later the job opening at Villanova became available again, Flinn contacted Bellantoni again and this time Kray got an interview and the job with the defending 2009 Football Championship Subdivision national champions.
“I really hate to lose him for all that he did for us,” EIU head coach Bob Spoo said about Kray. “I think he’s going to be a really good coach for someone. Just a fine young man. He did anything and everything we asked.”
Kray said he considered the Villanova job a year ago, but the opportunity to be a position coach with the Panthers was too good to pass up at just 24 years old.
“In a sense I’m ahead of the eight-ball because I’m 24 and I’ve already coached a position for two years,” Kray said. “The main reason I stayed at Eastern was the great coaches. It’s a coaching school and known for its coaches. Roc trusted me to coach the defensive ends. That helped me out a lot. Hopefully I’ll stay ahead of (the curve) and keep progressing to further my coaching career.”
Kray’s ultimate goal is to be a head coach one day. Currently, most of his football knowledge is on the defensive side of the ball. He said he knows he has to have a good grasp of both offensive and defensive strategies if he wants to be a head coach. His assistant coaching job at Villanova will provide him with that start.
After seven years of playing defense or coaching defense, Kray will now be an offensive assistant with the Wildcats. He said he has been sitting in on running backs and tight end meetings since starting at Villanova on Monday. The Wildcats are also nearly done with spring practice, and he’s been helping with tight ends and scout team offense in practice.
“It’s a different thought process,” Kray said about switching to the offensive side of the ball. “Everybody was telling me I’m switching to the dark side, but it hasn’t been too bad. I’m liking the different mentality of it.”
Part of that mentality is hard work. Despite winning the national title three months ago, Kray said there hasn’t been much talk about the Wildcats being national champs.
“They don’t really talk about it,” he said. “That was last year, and they’re on to a new year. It’s great they did win that, but they’re constantly working hard. Villanova’s a top program, and they want to stay that way. If they’re not progressing, they’re degressing.”
Even with the change from offense to defense and working with a new program, Kray said one thing that hasn’t changed is how the coaches interact at Villanova. He said all of the Wildcats’ coaches are personable and get along really well, which is identical to the way things worked in the football offices at EIU.
“At Eastern we all got along great,” Kray said. “We loved being in the office together because hours seemed like minutes. We got work done, but at the same time we enjoyed each other’s company.”
Given a spare moment in his work day that typically starts at 5 a.m. for Villanova, Kray said he still thinks about what he’ll miss about coaching at EIU.
“I’ll definitely miss the coaches,” Kray said. “The one guy I saw every day was Roc. I saw him every day for the past six-and-a-half years. I’ll definitely miss the players—the guys I coached. I’ve helped them progress and seen them grown. (EIU’s) a great program. It’s made me who I am today.”
By SCOTT RICHEY, Staff Writer