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Chicago native Petito found what he wanted in west Omaha

August 17, 2018

Career record: 303-142

Playoff appearances: 24

State titles: 5 (A, 2003; A, ’05; A, ’12; A, ’15)

State runner-up: 3 (A, 2002; A, ’04; A, ’07)

Going into his 35th season as Millard North’s head football coach, it would seem like that this is the only job Fred Petito ever wanted in his career.

Coming out of Mount Carmel High School on the south side of Chicago in 1970, Petito thought he was going to be a Chicago cop.

Then Petito was recruited to play football at Hastings College, and that was the start of a journey that would eventually make him one of the most successful high school football coaches in state history.

He spent two years as an assistant football coach at Hastings St. Cecilia, then three years in Bowling Green, Kentucky, as an assistant before moving to Omaha to work at Omaha Cathedral in 1979 and ’80.

One of his former teammates at Hastings College, Scott Koch, was already in administration in the Millard School System and suggested looking into jobs there, especially with a new high school scheduled to open.

Petito obviously has found a home.

“I guess I decided this was a good place, west Omaha,” Petito said. “I had some opportunities to move, I almost took a job in Victoria, Texas, in 1989 or 90, but I said, ‘No.’ The competition is extremely good around here, the young people are invested in the program. I wanted to see what we could do.”

What the Mustangs have done is qualify for the playoffs 22 of the last 23 years, win five Class A state titles and take runner-up three more times. They’ve been the most consistent Class A program in the state during that stretch with teams that play physical up front on both sides of the ball in a quarterback-based option attack that has been difficult for opponents to stop.

“We’re going to get on the balls our feet and we’re going to attack you,” Petito said. “We’ll get into sets that will spread the field and then let the quarterback make reads at the line of scrimmage. Our quarterback has to be a pretty good guy. He gets you out of dead plays and he gets you where you need to be. He has to be a threat.”

One of the products of that option game was Eric Crouch, the 2001 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from Nebraska.

“That was quite a trip coaching him,” Petito said about coaching Crouch in the mid-90s. He also had Seth Olsen, a former All-American offensive lineman at Iowa who played four seasons in the NFL.

“When Eric got to Nebraska, we altered our coaches’ meetings on Saturday so we could watch him,” he added.

At 66, Petito still runs 2½ to 4 miles per day and has not cut his schedule back at all as a physical education teacher at the school.

“I still enjoy being around the kids and working with them,” Petito said. “We started 10 sophomores last year, so I’m excited to see what that group can do now as juniors this season. They play with grit and they’ve grown up. They’ve always played hard, but now with some experience, they’re also playing smart.”

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