As a senior at Northwood during the 2002-03 basketball season, Matt Donegan
averaged 15.7 points a game and led the Toledo Area Athletic Conference in rebounding with a 12.3 average.
The 6-1 forward, a first-team All-Press and All-District 7 selection, also played football for four years and played baseball his freshman and senior year.
Northwood football coach Ken James, who was also Donegan's coach at the time, has always been a big believer in an offseason weightlifting program. Therefore, Donegan and anyone else who played both football and basketball for the Rangers had to balance their basketball season and lifting for football.
"Football was my No. 1 sport, but I liked them both," Donegan said. "I liked doing stuff for football and I loved basketball. It wasn't a chore if they asked me to lift weights or play basketball in an open gym. We had a couple kids like that, but we had a few who were like, 'Oh, I have to come to this?'
"We want kids who really enjoy the game. That makes them want to learn and be excited, and they are the ones who have to want to work at it."Now in his first season as Northwood's varsity boys basketball coach, Donegan said he is struggling to get the school's young, talented athletes to juggle football and basketball.
"It's still an issue," he said. "I'm going to have to recruit more than I thought. When I took over I knew we had a good freshman class, and a lot of them didn't come out (for basketball). A lot of them played varsity football and I thought a lot of those kids would come out for basketball. But, they wanted to stick with football and lift weights. Basketball became an afterthought.
"It is a very talented class, a good, athletic class. To not have them come out for basketball could hurt the program. We don't want to see that happen, so I'm going to see if I can get them to come out."
Donegan's current team features just one senior, Ryan Canaday, and the Rangers have struggled. Northwood entered Tuesday night's game against Old Fort with a 1-5 overall record, including 1-2 in the TAAC.
"There hasn't been a game this year where we haven't had fewer than 20 turnovers," Donegan said.
The first-year head coach knows all of his players well. He led the Rangers' seventh grade team right out of high school, and he had a successful five-year run as Northwood's junior varsity coach.
"We were 13-7 last year," Donegan said. "We won some games last year, but they still have to develop a lot. John Romstadt, David Green, Ricky Hartley - we have a bunch of young guys. We have a lot of guys who should probably still be playing JV. We're hoping we can mimic that success we had as a JV team as they develop into varsity players."
Donegan, 24, replaced Jim Besgrove, who had one winning season, as the Rangers' coach. The 2005-06 team finished 11-9, but the Rangers haven't had a record above .500 since. Last year's team went 5-15 and 3-8 in the TAAC.
Donegan knows what it takes to win. As a Northwood junior, his team won its final 14 regular-season games and suffered a close loss to Pandora-Gilboa in the district finals. The Rangers finished 15-7 and 10-4 (second) in the TAAC.
Whether or not Donegan can turn this team around is still to be determined.
"We have one senior and three juniors, and the rest are young kids," Donegan said. "We're obviously trying to do what we can this year. We want to win this year. That's our goal. Looking in the future, if we can get these kids to come out and if the kids want to work ...
"That was one of the problems when Jim was here. He was working more than the kids. They went to lift for football and that pays off, but we want to convice them that if you work that hard in basketball, it will pay off in basketball."
Developing players at the lower levels is also one of Donegan's priorities.
"We have a team at the East Toledo Family Center, kids as young as third and fourth grade and fifth and sixth grade playing in a league," he said. "My seventh and eighth grade coaches are new and they're doing a great job. We have a no-cut policy at the junior high (grades 5-8), so they have as many as 16 kids they have to get into a game. That's been interesting for those coaches.
"We have some height at those levels and we have some good skill guys. We just have to make sure they keep playing and keep working hard."
Donegan added that the Rangers must also have a strong summer basketball and weightlifting program in order to be competitive.
"Last summer wasn't great," he said. "We need to lift and get stronger. A lot of guys aren't as strong as they should be to compete, especially inside. Lifting is just as important in basketball as football. It will help you drive to the lane, be faster, jump higher, be quicker.
"We need a good lifting offseason and get better on the court skill-wise and have a good summer. That will help us tremendously."