Brent Chojnacki is going to find out what Friday night lights are all about.
After one season as Hazelwood Central's football coach, Chojnacki accepted the same position at Francis Howell. His hiring was approved Thursday night by the Francis Howell School District Board of Education.
“There are very few jobs that I'd throw my name into the hat and Francis Howell was one of them,” Chojnacki said. “It wasn't my vision to be one and done at Hazelwood Central.”
Chojnacki, 30, graduated from Hazelwood Central in 2006. He was an all-state offensive linemen who continued his playing career at Missouri State University. Chojnacki spent one season at Bowling Green High School before he returned as an assistant coach to Central, where he worked his way up the ladder until he was named head coach last winter.
Central went 10-2 and lost in the Class 6 District 2 championship game to rival and eventual state champion CBC. It was the fourth consecutive season the Hawks had their season end at the hands of the Cadets.
Chojnacki takes over for Cory Snyder, who resigned in March after two seasons at Howell to become the athletics director at Westminster. The Vikings went 15-7 under Snyder, including a 6-4 mark in the 2017 season.
Howell athletics director Sean Erwin said Chojnacki was selected from a vast pool of applicants.
“The candidates that reached out to us were pretty overwhelming,” Erwin said. “We had a good group of candidates, Brent stood out.”
Chojnacki steps into a position that is among the more unique in the area.
Howell takes a lot of pride in its football program. The booster club is among the most active and supportive in the area. Home games are jam0packed with spectators. Howell wanted someone special to lead its flagship team.
“It's a lot more than football, it's a community event,” Erwin said. “We really need a person in place that's dynamic and can engage the community, engage the school and have success on the field. You're looking for someone with a unique skill set.”
Chojnacki got a taste of what that can be like in his one season at Central, a program with sky-high expectations that boasts one of the richest football traditions in the state.
“You have to be up to the challenge of the parents, community and administration,” Chojnacki said.
He will face a new challenge at Howell. Chojnacki lost one of his best scouting nights. Central, like the vast majority of high schools in North St. Louis County, has no lights on its football field so all its home games are on Saturday afternoon. That meant the Central coaching staff routinely spends Friday nights watching an upcoming opponent in person and not on film.
Howell plays all its home games on Friday nights with great fanfare and overwhelming support.
“I don't know much about Friday night lights,” Chojnacki said with a laugh.
Chojnacki remains under contract with Central as a physical education teacher until June 30. He'll assume the same position July 1 at Howell.
Chojnacki said the hardest part of this transition would be leaving the players at Central. He had a meeting with them Friday morning before school to break the news and talk about why he made this decision.
It was not an easy conversation.
“That's the toughest part,” Chojnacki said. “The kids at Central, they're going to be good if they continue to be bought in.”