Heilman has been a coach in South Western's program since 2001
South Western has found its next head football coach.
Chris Heilman, who served as the Mustangs defensive coordinator the past six seasons, was approved by South Western's school board last week, according to him and South Western athletic director Don Seidenstricker. Heilman is a 1995 graduate of South Western and has been a coach in the program since 2001.
Heilman takes over for Damian Poalucci, who resigned in January after posting a 25-27 record in five seasons.
"It's humbling, a tremendous honor to come full-circle as the head coach of the school I graduated from," Heilman said. "It’s something I’ve dreamed about for a long time. I want to make sure kids here understand the experience that South Western gave to me and appreciate the process."
An all-state lineman for the Mustangs his senior year, Heilman continued his football career at Shippensburg University before taking an assistant coaching job at Kennard-Dale in 2000. He returned to South Western the next year as the seventh and eighth grade coach before moving up to the freshman team in 2002 and the varsity club as offensive and defensive line coach in 2008.
He now takes over a program that made the district playoffs in 2015 but went just 4-6 this past season. While Heilman is determined to see the Mustangs become a perennial playoff team once again, he said winning is only one of his goals as head coach.
The former Mustang described himself as an "overweight" child who struggled with self-confidence before he started playing for Seidenstricker in the 1990s. He credited the longtime Mustangs head coach with helping him grow as a person, and said he hopes to do the same for current players.
"Football changed my life," Heilman said. "(Seidenstricker) put the fear of god in me and made me do a lot of things I didn't want to do. That taught me life skills that helped me get to the highest level, because I wasn't the biggest or fastest kid. I want to teach these kids the core traditions of this program and be the hardest-working, most fundamental and best-conditioned team in the district."
Heilman is currently evaluating the rest of the Mustangs coaching staff, but said this past season didn't hurt his confidence in the team's current assistants. South Western will also continue to run a Wing-T offense.
Having coached with Poalucci for a number of years, Heilman said he was sad to see the former South Western coach go but wished him well.
"I love Damian as a friend and I'd love to have him back coaching but he thought this was best for the program," Heilman said. "We had some injuries that hurt us last season, but we didn't forget how to coach. We can talk about Xs and Os but we're going to focus on the fundamentals, blocking and tackling. Football is not that complicated, just like Nick Saban says."
Seidenstricker said Heilman's many years as a coach and business teacher in South Western made him an ideal candidate. He added that Heilman has proven himself to be a determined competitor since his playing days.
"The fact that he returned as a strong coaching candidate speaks to his commitment more than anything I saw in him as a player," Seidenstricker said. "It was his strong desire that made his goal come true."