You won't find any superstar football players among the Class of 2012 at Crystal Lake South.
This class of seniors doesn't boast an all-state quarterback like Drew Ormseth, who last year led the Gators to a Valley Division title in the Fox Valley Conference, a Class 6A quarterfinal and a tie for the most wins in school history (11-1).
And, no, these Gators don't have an all-state offensive tackle like 6-foot-4, 280-pound monolith Jake Bernstein, now a freshman at Vanderbilt.
Nor do they have college-bound linemen like 6-foot-6, 300-pound Fahn Cooper (Bowling Green) or Phil Hespen (Drake), each of whom helped make CL South's Class of 2011 one of the most recruited in school history.
In fact, 10 games into the season these Gators don't even have a 1,000-yard passer or a single running back with more than 500 yards rushing.
So how in the name of Ken Bruhn have these Gators gone 9-1, repeated as champions in the FVC for the first time in school history and advanced to a Class 7A second-round game against Carmel tonight at 7 p. m.?
"We may not have a kid throwing the ball all over the field like McHenry has (Robert Tonyan) or a game-breaking running back like Prairie Ridge has in (Jordan) Geltzelman, but we have a special group of blue-collar high school football players that works hard and has that desire to win," second-year CL South coach Chuck Ahsmann said. "We are a grind-it-out team that plays good defense, runs the ball successfully and throws the ball pretty well when we have to.
"We don't have any superstars, but we seem to be doing just fine."
To be clear, the Class of 2012 is hardly bereft of talent. We're talking about a group that went 9-0 as freshmen and 7-2 as sophomores. It's just that the Class of 2012 has a far different makeup than its predecessor. Whereas the Class of 2011 was led by a few standout blue-chip prospects, this class is populated by multiple light-blue chippers.
Few outside the CL South program expected the Gators to pull off a Valley Division repeat without Ormseth, et al, but this year's seniors turned such low expectations into motivation.
"We've been the underdog all year and we expect to keep being the underdog the rest of our season, so it doesn't bother us anymore," senior linebacker Joe Coriaci said. "We're like a family. We believe in each other and we believe we can get the job done."
The Gators get it done with a defense-first attitude. Ahsmann's philosophy has been straightforward: hold the other team to 14 points or less in every game and find a way to win on offense.
"If you look at high school football, teams that can hold the other team to 14 points or less are usually pretty successful," said Ahsmann, a longtime defensive coordinator who still calls the defense. His team held opponents to exactly 14 points per game in 2010. That statistic has dipped to 9.9 points per game this year.
Four seniors lead the Gators in tackles: linebackers Coriaci (45), Steve Forner (41) and Reese Dziedzic (35) and defensive tackle Josh Beveridge (34.5).
Beveridge leads the team with 14.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. Fellow senior lineman Colt Nero has forced a team-high 4 fumbles and has 27 tackles, including 12.5 for losses totaling 77 yards.
Other seniors who have made a difference on defense are linebacker Adam Brecht (21.5 tackles, 4.5 sacks), lineman Brandon Mitchell (22 tackles, 11.5 TFL) and defensive backs Will Ahsmann (16.5 tackles, 4 pass breakups) and Brad Walovitch.
If the Gators have one player on the brink of "stardom," it's Walovitch, a talented jack of all trades. Defensively, he leads the area with 7 interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) to go with 16.5 tackles. Offensively, he is the team's leading receiver with 25 catches for 373 yards and 3 touchdowns.
What makes Walovitch unique is his additional prowess on special teams. He kicked a memorable 51-yard field goal with time running out to beat Cary-Grove in Week 3. He is 33 of 36 on point-after attempts and 4 of 9 on field goal attempts overall.
Walovitch has also averaged 39.1 yards per on 31 punts, and he returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown in Week 4 against Huntley.
"He's really a unique player," Ahsmann said. "He has great instincts."
Offensive coordinator Bill Altmann's squad has compiled nearly 3,000 yards without a clear-cut No. 1 running back. Instead the Gators rely on a rotation of big, strong runners and they stick with the hot hand. Dziedzic had the hot hand last week. He rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown on 20 attempts to up his season totals to 372 yards and 5 scores.
Others in the rushing stable include junior Zevin Clark (403 yards, 5 TD) and seniors Karl Mikulec (409 yards, 11 TD) and Bryan Kazmer (150 yards, 2 TD). Mikulec returned to practice this week after sitting out the first-round win over Streamwood due to pneumonia.
"We have four or five backs who split the reps and don't complain," Walovitch said. "I think it makes us harder to scout and prepare for. It's everyone doing their part and not being selfish. They're trying to set each other up with blocking. They're willing to give up reps in practices to be a better team."
That all-for-one attitude epitomizes this senior class at CL South, and that's why this group is on the brink of history. Though they lack a true superstar, this group of seniors can become the winningest class in CL South history with a victory over Carmel. Last year's seniors won 20 varsity games in two seasons. A victory over the Corsairs would give the Class of 2012 a total of 21 varsity wins.
The unified play of the seniors has impressed their head coach.
"At the beginning of the season we as a coaching staff didn't really know what we had," Ahsmann said. "We thought maybe 6-3 and making the playoffs would be great considering how much we lost on offense.
"But this is a group of winners. We talked to our seniors (Wednesday) and told them how proud we are of them. It's hard to quantify effort, but this group plays 100 percent the whole game, win or lose."
There may be too many names of contributors to fit on a marquee, but these Gators seem happy as long as the team's name remains in lights.
"We don't have that one superstar, just 11 guys doing their job on every play," Coriaci said. "That's been the key to our success."