Tom DeLuca reached a lifelong goal two weeks ago when he was named the head football coach at Olmsted Falls.
Now, the 1999 Norwalk graduate must continue a high level of success while taking over for a revered coach who retired.
“Coach (Jim) Ryan has been awesome with the transition,” DeLuca said. “He’s helped me with whatever I need. He wants to see the program he built continue to have great success.”
Ryan coached for 25 years at Olmsted Falls, guiding the Bulldogs to 11 playoff appearances, which included the Division II state championship in 2000 and a trip to the state semifinals in 2002.
“It’s a tall order to fill those shoes,” DeLuca said. “He’s a legend in the Cleveland area. I don’t expect to replace him at all, because you don’t replace Jim Ryan. I’m looking at it more like being the next guy up.
“I’m looking to meet those expectations. It’s a challenge, because the community has very high expectations. It makes it a little more challenging.”
At Norwalk, DeLuca was a two-time first team All-Ohioan and the Northwest District Defensive Player of the Year his senior season in 1998. He was also a first team Northern Ohio League selection at three different positions in the same season (running back, defensive back, kicker) and played for his father, Ron DeLuca, who was the Norwalk head coach from 1994-99.
He went on to become an All-American in Division III at Baldwin-Wallace, where he broke up 22 passes as a defensive back in the 2002 and 2003 seasons.
From the time he was finished with college, DeLuca had his eye on one day becoming a head coach.
“It was a goal of mine forever. After this season, I talked with some people in football who I respect, and I felt like I was ready to pursue this goal,” DeLuca said. “The interviewing I did at places was a process itself, but I got more comfortable with each one and knew what to expect.”
DeLuca was an assistant at Tiffin Columbian (2006-07) under Steve Gilbert before becoming the defensive coordinator at Westlake under Mark Campo, a position he’s held since 2008.
“I’ve learned something from every coach I’ve worked with,” DeLuca said. “From being a good listener to the organizational side of it, to just being a good person and treating people the right way.
“Not everyone is going to like you or agree with you, but football has the most population in a single sport. It’s important to surround yourself with good people.”
DeLuca, who will actually get a semi-homecoming in August when he takes his team to Norwalk for a scrimmage, said interest has already been very high.
“We had 74 kids at the first meeting in the upper three grades,” DeLuca said. “I’ve seen very strong numbers in my two weeks in the weight room. Football is important here, there are very good numbers.”
The Bulldogs were just 2-8 last season in the rugged Southwestern Conference, but were competitive in losses to playoff teams Avon Lake and Westlake before finishing the season with a win over 7-win North Olmsted.