The Notre Dame Fighting Irish traditionally have owned the city of Chicago in recruiting. The Irish have always recruited well, but Chicago is one of their biggest talent producing areas.
There are a lot of Catholic Leagues schools in the Chicago area and most of those kids grow up dreaming of playing for Notre Dame. Plus, it’s only about 90 miles away.
Gerry Faust was more than a remarkable high school coach. He started the football program at Cincinnati Moeller High School and he won big. From the year 1962 until 1980, Faust coached Moeller to an incredible 178-23-2 record with numerous state championships and All American players. They were essentially a Notre Dame feeder school and he sent guys like famous linebacker Bob Crable, tight end Tony Hunter and too many others to list.
It was Gerry Faust that had begun recruiting the Chicago Catholic schools 8, but Faust was no longer the coach after Miami just crushed Notre Dame in 1985.
He was replaced by fiery Minnesota coach, Lou Holtz, and he finished off the task of recruiting the
Most of these high school recruits were highly rated, and Holtz hit the ground running at Notre Dame. Holtz was a very high energy guy, and Notre Dame was his dream job and a top destination for many high school recruits.
Linemen Paul Glonek and Jeff Pearson from St Laurence High School in Chicago were on the prestigious Parade All American team. So was outstanding linebacker prospect John Foley from St Rita High School. These were three of the highest rated recruits in the country and about everybody wanted them. Foley was the USA Today National Defensive Player of the Year.
The St Rita and St Laurence programs were loaded and had other highly recruited players. At St Rita, the college coaches were also all over Jason Cegielski and John Zaleski. St Laurence also had seniors Tim Grunhard and Mike Harazin.
But, St Laurence also had another player.
He was running back Stan Smagala. He was small and he was white and nobody wanted him. Naturally, this would gain my attention because I tend to pull for the underdog in the story and Stan Smagala was definitely an underdog.
Back in 1985, People Magazine ran a story about Stan Smagala’s father. Stan Smagala Sr was an insurance agent, and a good one. His doctor told him to slow it down and he got out of the business and basically turned it over to his wife who also really did well. Smagala Sr went back to school and went out for the football team at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Illinois. Like his son, Smagala Sr was a running back and at 43 years old, the oldest college football player in the country.
But, he was in good shape and could run a 4.7 40 at the age of 43 and being out of the game since high school.
Stan Smagala Jr at least had good genes. But, Notre Dame was the only school to offer him and it was Gerry Faust that had given him the offer. Once Faust was out and hired by Akron to coach their football team, he offered Smagala a scholarship again. Faust had no shot at the other 7, but maybe he could land Smagala and he definitely saw something in Smagala Jr that others had not.
Lou Holtz did not want Stan Smagala and he told the family that Gerry Faust had offered the young running back, so Holtz would honor that. But, he suggested that Smagala go elsewhere because he wouldn’t play at Notre Dame.
The Chicago Catholic League schools 8 were:
John Foley LB
Paul Glonek DL
Jeff Pearson OL
John Zaleski OL
Jason Cegielski OL
Tom Grunhard OL
Mike Harazin OL
Stan Smagala RB
Considered maybe the jewel of this recruiting class, John Foley was forced to sit out his freshman year because of grades. He was expected to compete for playing time the following season and he worked his way into the lineup. But, in the Cotton Bowl after the 1987 season, Foley was injured and forever out of football.
Paul Glonek never made it to Notre Dame. The Irish withdrew his scholarship because he had not made any progress academically. Glonek has quite a story, first going to Iowa, but then quitting and going to Arizona. It did not end well for him on the football field.
Jeff Pearson started at offensive guard, but after the 1987 season he abruptly left Notre Dame supposedly because of a personal problem. He transferred to Michigan State.
Zaleski flunked out as did Cegielski, but Cegielski made it to Purdue where he played out his career.
Tom Grunhard started at offensive guard, but Mike Harazin never started.
Then, there was Stan Smagala.
Smagala not only started at cornerback, he was a star there. Thought of as too small and too slow, he surprised everyone at Notre Dame. Turns out ole Lou Holtz had been wrong about Smagala and
Gerry Faust had been right. It happens.
It wasn’t all Holtz’s fault, he just assumed by looking at the kid that he could not cut it. Faust had Smagala in for a football camp and saw him up close and personal.
In high school at St Laurence, Stan Smagala only started his senior season and he was injured some. There wasn’t a lot of game film available on him. He was about 5-11, 160, and it was said that he just now was able to outrun his father in the 40 yard dash. But, that’s what happens when your dad plays college football at the age of 43.
Smagala put on some muscle to about 185 pounds and he supposedly ran the 40 yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds, somewhere in the 4.35 range. He was considered the second fastest guy on the team, but when one of your teammates is called Rocket Ismail, it’s difficult to be on top.
Smagala might be known best for his 64 yard touchdown return against 2nd ranked USC in 1988 that helped Notre Dame on it’s way to winning the national championship that season. That play, more than any other, demonstrated what kind of speed Smagala possessed.
He was a 3 year starter at cornerback for the Fighting Irish making him the most successful of the Chicago Catholic School 8.
Across from Stan Smagala, at the other cornerback position, was Todd Lyght who was probably the top cornerback in college football. If teams thought they could pick on Smagala to avoid Lyght, they were dead wrong. Smagala was a good cover corner.
He was drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders in the 5th round, but he was traded to the Dallas Cowboys where he played for a couple of seasons. He struggled with injuries in the NFL and was with the Steelers for another season before leaving the game.
Not a bad career for a guy that nobody wanted.