SIOUX CITY – North High’s summer sports teams will be under the watchful eye of a couple of guys who know a thing or two about winning.
Nick Tillo, a standout performer on the Stars’ 2009 Iowa Class 4A state championship team, has taken over the baseball program from Rory Jackson while Brent Eickholt, a longtime assistant with deep ties to North, is the new head softball coach.
“Coming back home to where I played on all those great teams and won a state title, this was a dream come true,” Tillo said. “Even when I was playing in high school I knew I wanted to get into teaching and coaching and I always wanted to come back to Sioux City and especially North High School. I just landed the job a little earlier than I expected.”
The 27-year-old Tillo, older brother of former North baseball and basketball star Daniel Tillo, is a 2009 North graduate who played baseball two years at North Iowa Area Community College and two at Southwest Minnesota State.
He teaches special education English at North High.
As a senior on North’s 36-7 team that blanked Iowa City West 4-0 in the 4A state title game, Tillo finished second on the team with a .412 batting average. That trailed only Damek Tomscha, who went on to play at Iowa Western and Auburn and is currently in the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization.
“The baseball program here has great tradition but they haven’t been to state since 2010 so that’s my goal,” Tillo said. “I was able to play at Principal Park (Des Moines) and I want to lead my team down there as a coach.”
One thing Tillo has going for him is he has already coached most of the current North players, having served as a freshman coach three seasons ago.
“One of the big things I have going for me is that I can relate to the kids well,” Tillo said. “I applied for this job and at first I didn’t think I had a chance to get it but I figured this is always what I wanted to do so I threw my name into the hat.
“I wasn’t too nervous about the interview and when it was over I felt it went well. Then I got a call back and shockingly got the job.”
Tillo has leaned on his high school coach Brian Drent for coaching advice, as well as Corby McGlauflin, a former teammate who is a successful junior college coach. He inherits a roster with three seniors and seven juniors and feels they can contend for the Missouri River Conference title.
Tillo’s first game as head coach will be Tuesday at Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson and he’ll step into the coaching box at Bud Speraw Field two nights later.
“I’m for sure going to be nervous for that first home game just because I’ve never been down there in the coaching box,” Tillo said. “I’ll take it all in and hopefully come away with a couple victories to start.”
It took Eickholt a little longer to land his first head coaching gig, but the 47-year-old , a 1989 North graduate, is no less excited.
This will be Eickholt’s 19th season as a North coach and he also spent five years at Briar Cliff University as an assistant.
“I’ve put a lot of time and effort into North High and to be able to get the head job is an honor,” Eickholt said.
After a senior season in which he earned all-state accolades, Eickholt headed to Walters State Community College in Morristown, Tennessee, with hopes of being drafted by a major league organization. A severe knee injury his sophomore year threw a monkey wrench into those plans so Eickholt returned home to attend Briar Cliff University.
After that, he played 18 years of major men’s fast-pitch softball, competing with and against some of the best teams and players in the world. Having been a member of the North coaching staff for so many seasons should make it a smooth transition.
“I think one of our biggest advantages is that all the girls are familiar with me and know how I operate and know what my expectations are” Eickholt said. “This year will be a tough one, I have two juniors, one sophomore, nine freshmen and two eighth graders, but most of them suited up varsity. It’s one of those good-bad things, you’re young but there’s everything to gain out of that. The future looks really good for North High.”
Eickholt has also been a basketball and baseball coach at his alma-mater. He works in law enforcement in Sioux City. His oldest daughter, Keisha, graduated a couple of years ago and his youngest, Kylee, is one of the two juniors on this year’s team.