Before John Dergo’s final year of high school had ended, the sign south of town had already proclaimed him one of Morris’ biggest stars. “Welcome to Morris: Home of John Dergo.”
Seven years later, the sign has been changed to embrace new champions like Haleigh Knapp, but what Dergo accomplished on the football field and on the wrestling mats at Morris Community High School is still the thing of lore around town. However, despite dethroning Joliet Catholic on the way to Morris’ first football state championship in 21 years and winning a pair of individual state titles as a wrestler, John Dergo never embraced the star’s role.
“What was great about John was that he was the consummate team player,” former Morris assistant and offensive coordinator of the 2005 IHSA Class 6A state champs Dave Auwerda said. “He was willing to do whatever was asked of him to help make things work, not only to win a game, but even just to help the other kids along.”
His days as a star at MCHS would ultimately pave a path to a college scholarship.
After school he’d go on to wrestle at the University of Illinois. He always enjoyed the individual nature of controlling one’s own fate as a wrestler compared to football, and he controlled his own fate admirably at U of I where he was a four-time NCAA qualifier and the champion of the Big Ten in 2010.
He compiled a 105-41-7 record for the Fighting Illini and had an accomplished career, but missed out on his ultimate goal of winning a national championship. He was nagged by injuries during his college career, but he refused to buy into that as an excuse for falling short of a title.
“Obviously, the main goal when you start wrestling is to be an NCAA champion, and that never happened,” Dergo said. “The injuries never had any effect though. I just never got it done.
“It’s disappointing, but I’m happy I did it and I’m happy with the people I met there and my time at U of I.”
After his wrestling eligibility was exhausted, John did a short stint as an assistant coach before deciding to move into the regular working world.
“I came to the point where I was either gonna go back to (grad) school – I had a few other coaching opportunities – or eventually start working. And I really wanted to get out there and learn something new,” Dergo said.
Now Dergo is in the working world. He is a supervisor of a crew at United Scrap Metal Buyers and Recyclers Inc. The company was founded in 1978 and is one of the leading scrap processors in the country.
Transitioning from being a student-athlete with a regimented routine to the workforce can be a challenge for some, but for Dergo, it’s helped teach him how to get the most out of both his time at work and his time outside of work.
“You’re on your own now, there are really no schedules set and you decide what you want to get out of work,” Dergo said. “I stayed really busy in high school and college, but that also helped prepare me. So now I find things to do with work and things outside of work to help keep myself busy.”
Keeping busy these days means throwing himself into work at United Scrap, spending time with his girlfriend or hanging out with old friends (he works with longtime friends Darin Haas and Dane Zumbahlen at United Scrap). It’s a pretty normal life for a kid who grew up as something of a prodigy in a town like Morris.
But, if you were to ask anyone who actually knows John, it’d be hard to imagine him living anything but a down-to-earth life.
“John was never really a kid who got sucked into all the attention he received,” Auwerda said. “He always let his actions speak for themselves, and if you have that, it’s funny how people have a way of respecting you and you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who didn’t like and respect John.”
People will always remember what John Dergo did against JCA. They’ll rattle off the stats and marvel at what he did on the wrestling mats. However, that never defined John as a person.
And now, even having stepped out from underneath the bright lights of organized sports, John Dergo’s future is as bright as ever.