Kankakee Valley Athletic Director John Gray dipped into the Lowell football program to nab the Kougars’ next football coach.
Derek Thompson, 40, who has served as a defensive coordinator at Lowell since 2010, was named KV’s new head coach on Monday night by a vote of 7-0 by the school board.
He replaces Zach Prairie, who went 6-15 in two seasons at KV.
A former player at Lowell when Kirk Kennedy was the Red Devils’ coach, Thompson also had assistant coaching stints at Lake Central and Merrillville.
While serving as special teams and defensive line coach at Merrillville from 2003-09, the Pirates won three regional titles. At Lowell, Thompson was part of a staff that helped the Red Devils win four straight sectional titles.
Lowell won sectional, regional and semistate titles last fall before finishing runner-up in the Class 4A state title game to East Central.
“It’s always been a life-long dream of mine to run a program,” Thompson said. “With the talent they can pull from two communities like Wheatfield and DeMotte, we think they have the ability to go to the next level. The community thinks it’s time to get over the hump and I feel I’m the guy who can get them over that hump.”
Gray said Thompson’s name rose to the top of the list after he re-opened the job in late January. Gray thought he had a name to present to the school board in early January, but that candidate backed out to take another job in another state.
“We had 10 applicants the second time around and they were better candidates than the first time in terms of experience,” Gray said.
Based on experience, Thompson’s name certainly stood out, Gray said.
“KV is excited to have Derek and the defensive knowledge he can bring to our school,” he said. “He understands the conference we play in and has been involved with two successful programs.”
Thompson, who teaches Algebra I at Lowell but will serve as a Physical Education teacher at KV next fall, said he was intrigued by the KV job because the school has lots of similarities to Lowell.
“It’s nice to be in a rural community where you have a lot of blue collar kids who want some leadership and direction,” he said. “Hopefully we can win some championships. I feel it’s a place I can hang my hat for quite awhile.”
Thompson understands the rivalries the Kougars face on a yearly basis. Traditionally, they open the season with county rival Rensselaer and face Lowell in a Northwest Crossroads Conference match-up midway through the season.
“Whenever we played them, and it’s the same when I played at Lowell, it was always fun, always competitive,” Thompson said of the KV-Lowell rivalry. “I like to compare it to the Pittsburgh-West Virginia rivalry and the backyard brawls.”
A 2000 graduate of Manchester University where he played football, Thompson is in the process of putting together his coaching staff. He hopes to meet with his future players in a week or two.
“We want to have our feet on the ground when we meet the kids and their parents,” he said.
Thompson becomes the second defensive coordinator from Lowell to steer the Kougars. Brad Stewart coached at KV from 2011-15, leading the program through two inning seasons in 2012 and ’14.
Thompson and his wife Angie have three children.