Every time Don Costa tried to retire from coaching high school football someone talked him into returning.

“I retired three or four times,” Costa said with a laugh. “But people keep getting me to come back. There were times I thought I was done and then, boom, I’m back in it.”

Costa’s coaching experience is an endless list of high school and college programs, and although he’s officially retired, he continues to volunteer his services to Ellwood City Lincoln High — the place that started his incredible career.

The legendary high school football coach is one of 13 inductees into this year’s Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame.

“I’m very excited about the honor,” Costa said. “(Lawrence County) is really a great area for sports. I grew up here and played for Ellwood and I’ve coached here, so I know the area. It’s a great area; always has been. It has always produced a lot of great players and great teams. It’s exciting to be from this area.”

A three-sport athlete, earning 10 letters in football, basketball and baseball, Costa earned all-conference honors and second-team all-state accolades as a fullback for the Wolverines in 1954.

“Where I come from, we played all sports all the time,” Costa said. “When I grew up there wasn’t a lot of television or computers, so we played sports. It was just one constant game and we played something all the time.”

Nicknamed “Ducky,” Costa doesn’t remember how the moniker came about.

“I come from the west end of Ellwood and everybody had nicknames,” he explained. “That was mine, but usually people don’t call me that anymore.”

His gridiron play earned Costa a scholarship to Notre Dame in 1955. Costa, who played with Heisman Trophy winner and NFL great Paul Hornung, also played baseball for the Irish during his senior season.

“I played about 30 games that year and it was really fun,” Costa said. “We almost made it to (NCAA playoffs) Omaha, Neb. We lost a doubleheader to Minnesota in the last game of the season. If we won one of those games, we would have gone on.”

Football, however, was and still is his true passion.

“Football has always been my favorite,” Costa said. “I think it’s the physical aspect of the game. Before a game, when you play basketball or baseball, you’re nervous. But before football, maybe it’s fear and you try to hide it, but you know it’s a physical game because you’re going to be involved in a lot of collisions.

“It’s a little more emotional.”

Costa began his coaching career at Canon-McMillan (Canonsburg, Pa.) from 1959-64 and served as an assistant at New Castle in 1965 before taking over as head coach at Ellwood from 1966-70. Costa accumulated a 18-20-1 record with the Wolverines, playing in the competitive Midwestern Athletic Conference. Named the MAC “Coach of the Year” in 1969, Costa’s club went 7-3.

“It was probably the best league around,” Costa said. “In those two years, New Castle won two WPIAL (championships), and in those years we lost to New Castle by a touchdown three times and tied them once. I had good players, but everyone had good players.”

From 1970-72, Costa served as a quarterback and receivers coach at Xavier University (Ohio) before joining the coaching staff at Riverside High for three years. In 1977 Costa went to Northwestern High (Albion, Pa.) as the school’s principle. At the time, Costa was done with coaching.

“In 1980, the coach left one day before practice,” Costa said. “So I ended up being the principal and coach.”

Costa had only 23 players to work with that season and ended up going 2-7. Costa built the Northwestern program, leading it to an 11-0 season and a District 10 title just five years later.

“Don is such a legend who has been successful at everything he has set out to do,” said Jeff Smiley, Costa’s friend and personal trainer for his son David. “He’s a man of integrity, and that’s the best way to describe him. He’s a prominent figure and rightly so. He’s the very elite when it comes to football around here.”

Besides volunteering at Ellwood City, Costa enjoys watching David play in the Canadian Football League. The offensive lineman, who recently signed a new three-year contract, plays for the Toronto Argonauts.

Trending Video

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.