Coach O’Donnell’s Last Dance


Coach O’Donnell pictured with his family.

Julian Hernandez, The Sterling Writer

After 9 years coaching and teaching at J. Sterling Morton West High School, Dan O’Donnell will be returning to his alma mater, Elk Grove High School, as the new head football coach and a new member of the physical education staff. Starting in the 2014-’15 school year, Coach O’Donnell took on the role as a physical education teacher and an assistant coach on the varsity football staff. Over his tenure, O’Donnell worked his way through the staff to become the defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator and eventual head coach. While many may know O’Donnell for his time on the football staff, he also coached girls basketball along with being the head track & field coach. After he finishes his current track & field season, Coach O’Donnell will be leaving Morton West at the end of the 2022-’23 school year.

The Sterling was able to catch up with Coach O’Donnell and discuss his time at Morton West High School.

TS: Looking back over the last nine years, how do you feel you’ve put your best foot forward in order to help provide the most success for the football program and school?

OD: “In the nine years that I have been here, I’ve done everything that I could to put this program in a situation to be successful. I have been grateful to been able to coach both sides of the ball (offense and defense) and really develop players for success, on and off the field. One of the things that I always tried to stress, it is either first class or no class, and I couldn’t be more proud of the way the players and community has taken me in and allowed me to mold these student athletes into successful adults.”

TS: What will you miss the most about the football program, as well with the school itself?

OD: “What I will miss most about the program is the opportunity to go against teams that don’t respect you and believe that you belong on the field with them. The day to day grind as well, putting Morton on the map and developing the respect from the other coaches in the conference has been something of great pride. What I will miss most about the school is the relationships, the connections with the students. Letting the students know that I was leaving was a very tough and emotional time for me because the nine years that I have been here, this place was my second home. I will be forever grateful for the students for allowing me to help mold, build and challenge them to be better and grow into unbelievable individuals with high character.”

TS: What are some words you have for incoming high school students and athletes?

OD: “Challenge yourself every day. Be the best version of yourself. Do not sit around and compare yourself to other people, blame and complain others for your situation. There is two things you control, your attitude and your effort. Give your best effort in everything that you do. It is not what has happened, it is how you respond to it that will define you as an individual and allow you to achieve success later on in life. One word to live your life by is ‘consistency.'”

The Sterling was able to catch up with two of O’Donnell’s athletes, Leon Kelsick and Nora Abu-Taleb. Leon was a football and track & field athlete, while Nora was a freshman girls basketball player, both coached by O’Donnell.

TS: How did Coach O’Donnell influence you as an individual and as an athlete?

NA: “Coach OD made me realize that basketball is a mental game. I remember I had one really bad game and we ended up losing by one point. He pushed me very hard to help me improve as a player. He constantly reassured me as a player to make sure after a bad or good game, that I was an important aspect of the team. Overall, OD gave me and all the other girls an amazing season especially for the first year, I was really glad to have him as a coach.”

LK: “O’Donnell, otherwise known as Mr. Do It All, has this nickname for a reason. He is everything you want in a coach, teacher, and overall role model. Over the past four years, from the athletic stand point, he always brought the energy to everything we did. His ability to have a relationship with anybody and connect with them is what I looked up to and what I wanted to mold into as I get older. He always taught me to ‘flush it’, which meant not to dwell on your mistakes. His message was that everybody makes mistakes and you shouldn’t let your mistakes impact your end goal. Wise words of OD, ‘focus on the bigger picture.'”

Coach O’Donnell has impacted athletes and students immensely over the last nine years. The heartfelt farewells and messages that were sent to O’Donnell varied from students, staff members and community residents. His influence on the athletic and student department of the Morton 201 district will not be forgotten.

The SterlingĀ is grateful to have been able to talk to O’Donnell and wish him nothing but the best for the next stages of his career.

Thanks Coach.