Meet the new head coaches in Rockford-area high school football

Tony Ambrogio, shown during his first practice as Jefferson's head coach in 2018, was approved Tuesday as Belvidere's new football coach. He has also been the head coach at Rockford Lutheran and Christian Life, taking over a team after a losing season all four times.
Jay Taft Matt Trowbridge
Rockford Register Star

There will be six new head coaches roaming the sidelines when high school football kicks off around the area on Friday night.

Here is a quick look at all of the new coaches, in alphabetical order:

Kickoff 2021:How Rockford-area football teams will stack up in the powerful NUIC

Tony Ambrogio, Belvidere

Tony Ambrogio's fourth team is 7-44 the last six years, but Belvidere's two state titles still loom large, painted on the walls of Funderburg Stadium.

“We are working at one of the best fields in the conference,” Ambrogio, 45, said. “That’s exciting. And the small town support is another part that has been a lot of fun so far.”

Ambrogio has turned teams around before. He was 6-6 at Rockford Lutheran after the Crusaders were 3-15 the two years before they hired him. He led Christian Life to a 26-14 record at his first stop; the Eagles were 3-15 the two years before he came. And while he was only 1-17 as Jefferson’s head coach, the J-Hawks went from 0-27 the previous three years to 4-5 when he was first hired as their offensive coordinator.

Ambrogio has run a spread offense at each of his stops, but Belvidere struggled to pass last year under Jim Morrow, who had run a spread offense at Harlem for years. Morrow left Belvidere after one year and is now coaching South Beloit.

“We have been teaching both and are hopeful for the return to passing, but we will see," Ambrogio said. "Our starters are pretty decent and we have average size for what you would see in the NIC-10. We just don’t have a lot of depth. We are in the 40-range for players in the whole program. That’s an issue playing in a big-school conference.”

Tony Capriotti

Tony Capriotti, Guilford

Capriotti is a new head coach, but an old Guilford coach. Even at age 33.

Capriotti has been an assistant at Guilford for a decade, including stints as the offensive and defensive coordinators. He was promoted when Denny Diduch stepped down to spend more time with his family and watch his daughters play sports.

Capriotti will be Guilford’s fourth head coach in six years. The Vikings went 2-2 last year to end a string of six consecutive losing seasons, but are 15-43 the last seven years.

"It's been a little different having a couple of extra responsibilities," Capriotti said. "It was weird having to do interviews during practice, but we had a real strong infrastructure going in so what was different i was ready for.

"I am just excited for our guys to go out and show what they can do. You never really know what you have until the lights come on. Our kids have worked hard. I am excited for them to have the opportunity to have some fun and put on display what i think they are capable of."

Kickoff 2021:How the Rockford area ranks in Big Northern Conference football

Ron Gates, Lutheran

Lutheran came on strong last season, and now the Crusaders will look to a new head coach, Ron Gates, to try and lift them up in the Big Northern Conference standings.

"Our strength will be in our senior class, which is a nice thing to have for a first-year head coach," said Gates, who runs the Rockford Renegades youth football program and has coached football for 31 years. This is his first varsity head coaching job, though.

"We've got some good kids here," he said, "and they were ready to work right from the start."

Despite a pair of quarantine sessions that cost them games due to COVID-19 restrictions, Lutheran still went 2-1 last season, including a 6-0 win over Byron to close out the spring season.

Now it's Gates' team.

Lutheran opens at home against the defending BNC champs from North Boone on Friday night.

Terry Gulley, Rockford Christian

Rockford Christian will move back into the BNC this season for football, and it will do so with a new head coach at the helm in Terry Gulley. He takes over for Brett Frederick.

Gulley, a longtime teacher at Rockford Christian schools, was once a head coach at Rock Valley College back when the junior college had a football program. Now he brings a whole new coaching staff with him to Rockford Christian.

Rockford Christian, which went 1-4 during the spring season, opens at Rock Falls on Friday.

Keynon Janicke, Forreston head football coach

Keynon Janicke, Forreston

The Cardinals raised their streak to 14 straight winning seasons last year, but at 3-2 it was not what the state champs in 2014, 2016 and 2018 expect out of themselves.

The same holds for new head coach Keynon Janicke, who replaces Kyle Zick.

"We play to win state titles here," Janicke said. "We set our expectations — our kids set our expections — very high."

Janicke is a Forreston graduate who played under Denny Diduch in 2011 and 2012. He's a sixth-year football coach, but a first-time head coach.

Kickoff 2021:Learning 8-man football — and why state power Freeport Aquin has to play it

Ryan Kelley, North Boone

North Boone will not only have a new quarterback running its spread offense this season in junior Chandler Alderman, but it will have a new head coach in Ryan Kelley.

Kelley comes in to replace Aaron Sullivan, who returns his focus to his main job as athletic director. Kelley, a 2008 Crystal Lake High School grad, was the junior varsity coach the past four years at North Boone, and last year worked with the varsity special teams.

This year, it's all his. North Boone is coming off a 4-0 season in which it claimed the unofficial BNC title. But several important cogs, including QB Logan Emanuel, have moved on.

It's up to Kelley to keep the Vikings on the upswing.

"The bones of the offense are going to stay the same," Kelley said, "but we'll have a few wrinkles that we'll bring in with us, too."

Jay Taft:; @JayTaft