McTague inducted into IWCOA Hall of Fame, just one of many accomplishments in wrestling

By: 
Shawn Long
Sports Writer

by Shawn long
Sports writer
Reed-Custer assistant wrestling coach Brian McTague was inducted into the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Hall of Fame during the Illinois High School Association Boys Individual State Wrestling Finals on Saturday, Feb. 17.
McTague joined Coal City head wrestling coach Mark Masters and 10 other deserving candidates up on stage during the ceremony held right before the Grand March of wrestlers.
“It was one of those things that you never think about and I guess over time if you’re in that category, then it happens so I was extremely excited,” said McTague. “When you do it in front of true Illinois wrestling fans for that kind of an introduction, that’s special. That’s not taking away from any kind of banquet that we’ll have in April but being there from either coaching or watching, that’s exciting.”
For a kid growing up as a Morris Redskin, basketball was actually McTague’s first love.
“Actually, not too many people know it but I grew up on the hardwood floor of basketball. My dad was a referee. Early on that was my babysitting. He would go ref and I would just be in the gym before and after the game. I actually went out for basketball in fifth grade. My buddy said ‘hey we’re wrestling over here at Shabonna.’”
McTague took his friend’s invite and found out he was a natural.
“I said I’ll go over and try that too. My brother wrestled and he was like four years older than me so I tried it and at that time, fifth graders couldn’t make the junior high team. But I could beat an eighth grader and it seemed like it was just kind of like my niche. Having an older brother and always getting beat up on. The neighborhood I grew up on was a lot of guys a little older than me and that combative part of growing up was just natural. I landed in the right areas and I took to the moves kind of easy.”
McTague wrestled, ran track, played baseball and football at Morris. Out of those sports, wrestling was where he shined the most. McTague was a two-time state qualifier, winning the Class AA 132-pound title in 1982 with a 35-1-1 record. His junior year at state he finished 32-6 at 126 pounds.
“It’s easy when you have success early and it’s just so easy to gravitate to the sport you’re good at.”
McTague was given a full ride scholarship to Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville where he helped the wrestling program win the National Collegiate Athletic Association wrestling tournament three out of the five years. He held his own at Edwardsville as a three-time All-American. McTague placed fourth in 1985 at 150 pounds and followed that with runner-up trophies in 1986 and at 142 pounds in 1987.
“When I was there for five years, we took third, first, first, first and second not even knowing because they had not really done anything like that before. So I was in the mix of it along with the guys they had recruited. I was lucky to just end up in a great program and had some success.”
McTague got a teaching job at Morris High School but didn’t coach until he saw an advertisement in the local paper about longtime Reed-Custer coach Tom Davis needing an assistant. With a little encouragement, he jumped in.
McTague stayed at Reed-Custer from 1992-2002 which was a year before Davis retired. While at Reed-Custer, Davis let McTague coach how he wanted to and their styles meshed so that they started winning. During the 1992-93 season, the pair had their first state finalist together as Donovan Marschner, a three-time state qualifier, earned second place at 145 pounds. From then on, that was their thing as they had state medalists every year.
“I’ve got a lot of pride when I walk into that room where the kids names are on the wall because they’ve placed and qualified. It’s like I’ve coached almost every one of those kids. There was one state champ to maybe Jay Conley before then and a handful of qualifiers but after me and Tom paired up, every year we’d have a medalist and it was amazing the way he built that program, and year after year spitting out all-staters.”
In 1996, the pair took a team to dual team state where they placed fourth, which to this day, is the first and only state wrestling trophy for RCHS. The Comets powered through Lawrenceville 46-12 to start the tournament but fell to Vandalia 35-24 in the semifinals and Lombard Montini 34-18 in the third place bout. Individually, the Comets had Don Hall (135, 2nd), Jason Mandac (152, 2nd) and Branden Petersen (103, 3rd) place at state during their fourth place medal season. That season and the 2021-22 season are two of the most memorable seasons for McTague. The 2022 Comets had the best record in school history.
“That was very exciting to get fourth down there and then actually this year. It might have been winning percentage but Yale Davis, I think we had the best record ever in the history and the winning percentage because he liked to give a little juke to his dad so that year and this year would be one of the highlights.”
He also cannot forget the dual team matches against Sandwich and Coal City. Those were tough.
“Sandwich and Coal City are always tough. That conference, Plano, was always having state champions. Just the regular dual each year was always a hard fought battle.”
He had a choice to take over the Comet wrestling program or go back to Morris. He then went back to Morris until 2005-06 when longtime Morris coach George Dergo left. Then, McTague took over the Morris program in the start of 2006-07 campaign, coached for three seasons with 35 wins before leaving to go to Minooka. He spent little time at Minooka before returning to Reed-Custer for a couple years. He went to help at Joliet Central before returning to Reed-Custer where he coaches today, and has spent 15 years.
McTague was around for Trent Lyons state title and Billy Chancey’s two state titles Overall, McTague has coached five state champions, seven state runners-up and 25 all-state medal winners, and 45 state qualifiers.
“It’s all spread out and I cherish each individual state qualifier, champion and placer. Branden Petersen, Don Hall, Jason Mandac, Trent Lyons, Billy Chancey, Joey Spiker, those kids were in the state finals and it’s always super exciting to get that three-piece suit on and sit in the chair at the Grand March and watch the kids wrestle for the opportunity to be a state champion.”
He was also around for a rivalry between Petersen and Coal City’s Todd Combes that was one for the ages.
“I think in a sense of the style--Combes was a phenomenal. I think he might have been a four-time state finalist, won it twice. He should have won it three times. Branden was a special story anyway because he was fresh/soph his first two years because he had somebody in front of him but then after that, when he was a junior and senior, he placed third and then second. You don’t see that too often. You usually see a kid of that caliber in the mix of it as a freshmen and as a sophomore so that just tells us about the program that we had back then. What I got out of that one, Combes would dominate Branden the first couple times but then their senior year when they wrestled in the finals, it was fairly close if I’m not mistaken.”
He compared that rivalry match to Joey Spiker’s with Bishop McNamara’s Mike Kimberlin, who went toe-to-toe in the finals Spiker’s senior year and it was a 4-1 decision for Kimberlin.
“That year really opened my eyes to Spiker coming back and lifting a lot of weight in the offseason. That just launched him to the next level. He got beat kind of easily by Kimberlin his first couple times and then his senior year in the state finals, I want to say it was a close match. It reminds me of Branden’s and Todd’s match.”
McTague loves to mold beginning wrestlers into state qualifiers and into champions from start to finish.
“It’s just to give back to the sport that gave so much to me. I was in education so I really like the teaching of the kids so just part of that teaching aspect of it and the camaraderie with young student athletes just watching them grow as a freshman to a senior and watching the improvements.
“To this day when I look back, it’s so easy to gravitate towards the stud in the room that wins all the time but really what keeps me coming back, it’s the opportunity to see a kid that loves it starting off and is not that good and then he ends up being a state qualifier or finally beating that rival that he could never beat. He got so much better. I think that’s what keeps me coming back is those types of kids that thrive on it also.” McTague was surprised when he did get honored because he never thought it would happen this way.
“To be honest with you, no I didn’t and I think that’s what adds a little bit to it so it was a surprise and a very happy surprise and it’s very nice.”
McTague, Masters and 10 other 2021 Hall of Fame coaches will officially be inducted during a banquet April, 30 at William Tell Banquets at the Holiday Inn in Countryside, IL.