HAZELWOOD: Quiet time with dad put Norwalk grad DeLuca on successful coaching path

Mark Hazelwood • Updated Oct 30, 2017 at 11:12 PM

In a small corner spot of wooded banks off the water, a boy spent countless hours fishing with his father.

And it was there, more than 20 years ago at the Norwalk Reservoir, a high school football playoff coaching career began.

“I still go to Norwalk with him and fish all the time — he’s got his same spot that he likes,” said Tom DeLuca, the fifth-year head coach at Olmsted Falls, of his father, Ron. “Especially when they stock the Reservoir with Trout, dad is chomping to go.”

But the most unique part of those fishing trips is what Tom learned from Ron DeLuca, the current Norwalk High school track and field coach, and former head football coach (1994-99) and wrestling coach. Almost none of the conversations between the two while trying to land a big catch focuses on football.

And that’s how Tom, a 1999 NHS graduate, partly learned how to become a successful football coach. He got up earlier than most kids had to — in order to report to school, as Ron was a social studies teacher at Norwalk. Then it was the long hours at practice each day, both at the football field in the fall, the wrestling room in the winter — and then the weight room in the spring and summer.

“He was always busy, but he was very good at balancing the time with family, and I always thought that was pretty cool,” Tom said. “Having a first-hand look at what it takes, I wasn’t shell-shocked by the amount of time you have to put in, or the responsibility. There are certain things you can never prepare for, but the timeframe and workload is something I always saw with dad.

“Having my dad as my coach in high school definitely has helped play a role in me wanting to coach and be in the position I’m in now,” he added. “It’s good to have him as a resource, and I’ll ask him some questions that I know he has a good perspective on. It’s definitely a big plus.”

Tom DeLuca will guide the Bulldogs (9-1) into Friday’s Division II Region 6 first-round game vs. Midview (8-2). It’s the third straight playoff appearance for Olmsted Falls under DeLuca, who is 29-25 overall at the school entering Friday’s game.

Many who remember DeLuca will recall his fiery demeanor while becoming a two-time Div. III All-Ohio first team defensive back for the Truckers. He was also a state placer in wrestling, and is in the NHS Athletic Hall of Fame.

How much of that personality is still there almost two decades later? Just about all of it.

“The passion, I’ll tell you that up front,” DeLuca said. “I love the sport. The thing I love the most is competing and teaching kids how to compete. Honestly, that’s what keeps me going. I love competition, I love the competitiveness of it and it’s one of the greatest things that a kid can learn is how to compete — especially in our world.

“You compete for everything,” he added. “A job, getting into a college or grad school. That’s something from when I was in high school to today — I still love to compete.”

After high school, Tom DeLuca went on to become a Div. III All-American defensive back at Baldwin-Wallace University. He then spent time as an assistant coach at Tiffin Columbian and Westlake before taking over the head coaching position at Olmsted Falls in 2013.

The Bulldogs reached a regional championship game last season and are 18-5 over the past two seasons running the triple option — perceived by many as 'old school.'

“I didn’t feel like what we were doing, trying to run the spread offense, was capable of getting us to that state level,” DeLuca said. “I felt like the option suited us well, and it’s obviously a unique offense that is hard to defend when you can run it to perfection. It’s our third year running it, and we have close to 4,000 yards rushing already this season.”

DeLuca and his wife, Cassandra (Roeder), a 2000 Monroeville graduate, began dating in high school. They are both teachers at Olmsted Falls and have two daughters, Gianna, who will soon turn four-years-old, and 18-month-old Maria.

And deep down, perhaps the best part of coaching at Olmsted Falls for DeLuca — is that it’s not all that different from the Maple City.

“It reminds me a lot of Norwalk, to be honest,” he said. “That’s the 100 percent truth. We’re a bit bigger, but our colors are Navy and Gold, not too far from Norwalk. Olmsted Falls is a suburb, but it’s not. It’s fairly rural, and the furthest Southwest of Cleveland. It’s only 20 minutes from downtown, but it’s a real small town atmosphere here.

“They expect you to win games and are very passionate, which is good and sometimes challenging,” he added. “It’s a great community and school system, and great to raise a family. It’s a similar feel to how I grew up in a rural-type community. There is a lot of support here right at your fingertips, which is pretty cool. It’s home now, but it also feels just like I’m back home, too.”

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