Thirty-nine years after his playing career ended, a Morris resident became the 179th individual and the 74th former football player inducted into Eureka College’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
Craig Kotowski, who has lived in Morris since 1988, was the sole member of the Hall’s Class of 2013. He was officially inducted Oct. 4 during a ceremony inside Eureka’s Cerf Center.
Typically, the hall’s induction classes consist of multiple individuals or teams. As many as 11 inductees have joined its ranks in a single year. But the hall, which was founded in 1970, had classes consist of just one inductee eight times, including 1982 when former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who participated in football and swimming at the college, was inducted.
“If that distinction is good enough for him, it’s probably good enough for me,” Kotowski said with a chuckle.
Sam Harrod III played football and graduated from Eureka and has served as an attorney and judge in the Eureka area. During the final three years of Kotowski’s playing career, Harrod was the announcer at the team’s home field. Harrod sponsored Kotowski’s nomination to the hall.
“I had never noticed before that he wasn’t in,” Harrod said of Kotowski. “He was a magnificent player. Off the field, he was almost shy, an unassuming kid, but boy, you put a football helmet on him, and he turned into Dick Butkus.”
Among those present at the induction ceremony, according to Kotowski, were Harrod, Eureka College President Dr. J. David Arnold, the 2013 football team in uniform and two of his former coaches. Kotowski calls the experience “touching,” but being the sole inductee was a bit difficult.
“It was a little unnerving,” he said. “I took a look back website for the Hall of Fame for the college. Normally, there is a group that is inducted. In the past, some whole teams have been. When I found out it was just me, I was a little surprised.”
At LaSalle-Peru High School, Kotowski was a starting offensive guard and a reserve linebacker. His defensive playing time was minimal, as in those days, he said, players rarely played on both sides of the ball.
Almost immediately after Kotowski went to Eureka and joined the football team, he was switched to linebacker. He started 35 games there and was a four-time All-Conference selection in the Illini-Badger Football Conference.
“Craig started every game in college from day one,” Harrod said.
“There was one almost-exception. He got the flu and missed a practice. The coach at the time was Tom Hosier, who had a rule that you couldn’t start if you missed practice unless you did something they called the hamburger drill. In this drill, two players lined up in a narrow chute and went one-on-one with each other.
“Well, Craig didn’t like this drill. He said, ‘This is humiliating. I’m not gonna do it.’ Finally, some of his teammates went to him and said, ‘Come on, Craig, you’ve gotta do it. We need you.’ So he did. He flattened the guy in no time, and he was out there for the next game.”
There were aspects of being an offensive lineman that Kotowski enjoyed, particularly helping his running back teammate garner All-State recognition, but he ultimately preferred playing defense.
“I was very ready for it and excited for it,” Kotowski said of the switch.
Shortly after Kotowski’s playing career ended, Kotowski joined the football staff at Illinois Valley Community College. During the three seasons he coached linebackers and kickers, the Eagles went 34-2. Kotowski said he later did some youth coaching in Morris.
Nathan Kotowski, the son of Craig and wife Pamela, is currently a student at Eureka.