He’s best known for engineering the offense that claimed JMU’s first and only football national championship. But now, former quarterback Justin Rascati is trying to make a name for himself in the coaching ranks of college football.
Just eight years after leading the Dukes to their championship run in 2004, Rascati is now with the Weber State University Wildcats as the quarterbacks coach.
After graduating from JMU in 2007, Rascati was cut from the mini-camp rosters of the Chicago Bears of the National Football League and Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League. Eventually, he played two seasons in the Arena Football League. After a quick stint in the AFL, Rascati knew coaching would be the best decision for his future.
“I chased the dream of playing after college and did that for a few years, then I kind of fell into a really good high school job, which was awesome at the time,” Rascati said. “I just knew I had to move on. If I was going to get into college [coaching], I had to do it pretty soon.”
His first football coaching job came with Kentucky Country Day School in Louisville, Kentucky. Although he enjoyed coaching high school, Rascati had bigger aspirations of coaching in college one day.
“I was just kind of waiting on the right opportunity to get in college,” Rascati said.
With a little help from John L. Smith, who is currently trying to bring some good news to Arkansas fans as its head coach, Rascati landed his first collegiate coaching job at Weber State. Smith, who was Rascati’s coach at Louisville before he transferred to JMU, is an alumnus of Weber State and also began his illustrious career coaching at his alma mater as a graduate assistant.
Entering the 2012 season, Rascati was tasked with resurrecting a Weber State passing game that ranked in the bottom half of the Big Sky Conference last season. The team averaged just 209.5 passing yards in its 11 games last season.
Although it may seem like a big job to handle, JMU head coach and Rascati’s former head coach at JMU, Mickey Matthews isn’t worried about the future success of Rascati.
“He’d be a success in coaching, he’d be a success in any professional field he chose to go into,” Matthews said. “He just has a lot of good qualities.”
Matthews and Rascati continue to stay in touch, something Rascati greatly benefits from.
“What better mentor than Coach Matthews?,” Rascati said. “He’s helped me through this process and it’s been awesome to have him as somebody to always talk to if I need to.”
Much like how Rascati admires Matthews for what he has done, Matthews had nothing but good things to say about his former quarterback.
“Justin was a joy to coach because he was the hardest worker we had. He was a lot of fun,” Matthews said. “He’s a great student, great competitor, but he was a lot of fun to coach, a great athlete.”
Current JMU safeties coach Tony LeZotte was a freshman defensive back on the 2004 national championship squad and Rascati’s teammate. LeZotte saw coaching as a future for Rascati right from the beginning, after seeing the way he ran and controlled things on the offensive side for the Dukes for three seasons.
“He was one of the guys [that you call a “coach on the field”],” LeZotte said. “If you weren’t lined up, he could line you up. If you didn’t do something correctly, he was going to let you know.”
Rascati’s Wildcats are off to a 0-3 start, albeit two were Football Bowl Subdivision opponents and the other was McNeese State University who is in the Football Championship Subdivision Top 25. But that doesn’t mean he’s not having fun.
“It’s been awesome,” Rascati said. “I have a senior quarterback who’s been a lot of fun to work with, he’s a great leader. He works his butt off every day and makes my job a lot of fun. [Weber State] head coach Jody Sears — he’s been a lot of fun to work with. I really like where I am.”
Rascati’s quarterback, Hawaii native Mike Hoke, has thrown two touchdowns and two interceptions on 362 passing yards.
Rascati may just be in his first year of coaching in college, but there’s always the allure of getting another championship ring, this time as a coach.
“It’s tough to win one,” he said. “It takes a special team, a special season and a lot of things have to come your way. You just have to keep working hard every day. “
That’s coming from a man who proved hard work can yield national championship results.
Contact Joseph Kuykendall at firstname.lastname@example.org.