CHARLESTON — Adam Gristick made quite the name for himself as a linebacker for Eastern Illinois. He was the starting middle linebacker for the Panthers from 2012 to 2014 and had a 10-tackle performance in EIU's win over San Diego State in 2013. He finished his career with 191 tackles, including 20 for a loss, and three interceptions.
Now he's trying to help other EIU linebackers have the same success he had on the field. In the spring, Gristick received a call from EIU coach Kim Dameron, who was Gristick's head coach his senior year in Charleston. Dameron wanted Gristick back, this time to coach the linebackers.
For Gristick, it was an easy choice. He started his coaching career at Missouri State as the defensive quality control coach and moved on to Syracuse in 2016 when former EIU coach Dino Babers took the job. He spent the last two years as a graduate assistant on the defensive side of the ball.
Even though he was at an ACC school playing under one of his former coaches, the chance to return to Charleston for his first full-time assistant job was something he couldn't pass up. Gristick, who grow up in Pennsylvania, received the call he was the new linebackers coach on a Sunday. By that same Thursday, Gristick was already in Charleston ready to work.
"It's amazing to be back. I love this school and it's great to come back to a place where you see a lot of familiar faces and familiar places. It's great to be back," Gristick said. "Coming from Pennsylvania, I didn't know anyone here and it was a long shot. When I came here as a student, this community and university welcomed me with open arms and I met some unbelievable people here. Ever since I've left, I've wanted to come back and this is where I want to be and I want to do everything I can to make this university great. It's a great day to be a Panther every day."
Dameron said it's a big deal to have Gristick back on campus and on the coaching staff.
"He brings a lot of enthusiasm. He's a young coach and he's learning, but man, he brings his knowledge of playing the position recently in a similar system," Dameron said. "I am really glad to have him not just from a coaching aspect, but also with recruiting. He's jumped in and has really been on the forefront of a lot of our recruiting efforts and with social media, not just him but a lot of our younger coaches. He's done a fantastic job since he's been here."
Taking on a full recruiting load is something that is a little new for Gristick. Graduate assistants only handle a certain amount of recruiting. When Gristick was at Syracuse, he had about 140 schools in the Florida Panhandle. He did learn Nick Monroe, who is a defensive backs coach for Syracuse.
"You don't really do a lot of recruiting, but you do learn from the best. I was under Nick Monroe, who is one of the best recruiters in the country. He taught me the in's and out's of recruiting," Gristick said. "Right now my area is Pennsylvania, Ohio and I am going to get down in South Florida a bit, too. I've narrowed it down. I am just recruiting anywhere. I have a lot of friends here in Illinois still, so if they tell me they have a kid, I am going to give it a look."
While Dameron is happy with Gristrick's recruiting in only a couple of months with the program, the main reason he brought in the former EIU linebacker is to coach the current group of Panther linebackers. Gristick has an experienced group to work with. Starting middle linebacker Joe Caputo returns along with sophomore Dytarious Johnson, who saw plenty of time as a freshman, and redshirt sophomore Sean Williams to name a few.
Dameron said the linebackers have responded to what Gristick is teaching them.
"I've been in some of their meetings and I've watched how Adam handles the room and I've been really pleased," Dameron said.
Gristick believes he has a talented linebacking group to work with.
"We have some real talent, there's no doubt about that, but we have to get better every day. That's what we have to focus on, just getting better every day," Gristick said.
Not only is Gristick back in Charleston, he's doing something he's always wanted to do. He feels coaching has always been his passion.
"Since I was a little kid, I knew I wanted to be a coach. A lot of kids have aspirations to play in the NFL or do this and that. I've known I've wanted to be a coach for as long as I remember," Gristick said. "It's cool to see what goes on in the inside rather than having the outside perspective. As a player, you don't really understand how hard the coaches work or the work we put in to be good every year. It's really cool to see that."
Dameron said it's great having someone like Gristick back, who loves just being a Panther.
"He's Panther blue through and through. I am really glad to have him and (former EIU wide receiver) Erik Lora (who was recently hired as the assistant athletic director of development) back here. Those two guys have been a shot in the arm for this program and I am talking about the athletic program as a whole. It's great to have former players that are still here."
EIU's first game is at Arkansas on Saturday, Sept. 1.