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Playing offense gets you touchdowns and stats, and in some cases, a lot of attention.
But playing defense is where all the fun's at. At least, that's what the four team captains at Lake Zurich, all of whom play defense, tell me.
Of course, their perspective might be a bit skewed. I mean, what wouldn't be fun about playing defense at Lake Zurich?
I went out to practice at Lake Zurich this week because I wanted to see what makes the Bears' defense tick. For years it's been the best in Lake County, and this year is no exception.
The 5-0 Bears have pitched 3 shutouts already and have given up a grand total of 17 points. That's just 3.4 points per game. Only four teams in the state are stingier: two Class 2A teams (Eldorado and Mercer County, both with 12 points allowed) and two Chicago Public League teams (Whitney Young with 6 points and Uplift with 2 points).
This all comes after the 2012 Lake Zurich defense recorded 6 shutouts and allowed just 6.3 points per game over 13 games. Those were among the best defensive statistics in the state.
Back from that special Class 7A state semifinal team and leading the way for the defense again this year is linebacker Colton Moskal, who will be playing at Syracuse next fall. He was joined in our sit-down interview by cornerback Sean Lynch and linebackers Sam Walstrum and Noah Allgood. Allgood starts at quarterback for the Bears but started on defense last year and figures into the defensive rotation this year at least a dozen times a game.
All four seniors have been playing defense since grade school and have been having a blast ever since.
Patricia Babcock McGraw: Guys, in a nutshell, why is the LZ defense always so good?
Moskal: It's the mentality we have that on every play we have every person run to the ball. We want to be fast and have everyone in the picture.
PBM: Doesn't every team try to do that?
Lynch: I think our team just buys into it a little better. We understand that the only way to be successful is that everyone is running to the ball, everyone is fast, you have to play your responsibility and you can't be selfish.
Allgood: Everyone has their own job and you've got to trust that they're going to do it.
Walstrum: We don't play for ourselves. We play for the person next to us. We don't want to let that person down because we know all the hard work they've put in, too. We don't want to let our teammates down.
PBM: Are you letting each other down when you don't get a shutout? You've become so accustomed to shutouts, how important is it to you to keep points off the scoreboard?
Moskal: It's something that we strive for, but in the end, it's all about getting the win.
Lynch: We don't sit there and talk about going out there and trying to shut teams out. Sure, we'll be happy if we get a shutout, because if the other team doesn't score, obviously we're going to win. We're happy if it happens, but if it doesn't, we're not going to dwell on it.
Walstrum: Our coaches always tell us after a win to celebrate it that night, but when we come back in the morning, it doesn't matter what we did, if we let up zero points or if we let up 20.
PBM: So you wouldn't be upset if you let up 20 points?
All: If we won, no.
PBM: What about 40?
All: If we won…no.
Moskal: (Laughs) Well, we'd probably get yelled at a little bit, but at least we won, and that's really all that matters to us.
PBM: Guys, fill in the blank. Offense gets a lot of the attention, but I like to play defense because:
Moskal: I think we have more fun on defense. We joke about how the defense is the 'Dark Side.'
PBM: You guys are the bad guys?
Moskal: Yeah. That's fun.
Lynch: On defense, you're also a little bit more free to do what you want. It's not as structured as offense and that's fun.
Walstrum: And the ladies love the defense. (Laughs) We're tougher. We just have that charisma on defense that everyone loves.
PBM: Does it take a special kind of person to play defense? Do you have to be a little nutty?
Moskal: I think you kind of have to have a different mindset. You've got to be a little mean and willing to really hit somebody.
Lynch: You have to be tough, mentally tough. Sometimes you're going to get blocked. You have to come to terms with the fact that you're not going to make every play. You just have to be tough and get the next one.
Allgood: You've got to be relentless. You can't ever give up on a play. Last week, when Lake Forest's running back had a long run, (cornerback) Matt Moon chased him down. If he had just given up on that play, they probably would have scored a touchdown. Instead, I think we ended up holding them.
Walstrum: You've got to be smart, too. We're all students of the game. We study our players a lot, watch a lot of film. We recognize tendencies that we see on film. That really helps us.
PBM: What's the best play you personally have ever made on defense for Lake Zurich.
Walstrum: Last year in the playoffs against Hononegah on a fourth down in the fourth quarter, they ran a rocket over to my side and I knocked the blocker back into the running back and then I made the play and we got the ball back and we ended up sealing the game. Best feeling I've ever felt. Everyone came and gave me a hug. We were all celebrating.
Moskal: Last year against Glenbard West they were on our 10 or 15. It was third down. The guard pulled and I shot the gap and I got a tackle for loss. That was a big play.
Lynch: Against Rockford Boylan in the state quarterfinals last year I had an interception and ran it back 25 yards. I wish it was for a touchdown, but it was still a good interception.
Allgood: Last year against Stevenson, first series of game, they ran to my side and I tackled the guy for a loss and that was a big way for us to start the game.
PBM: Is there a pressure to maintain the tradition of excellence (and stinginess) that the Lake Zurich defense has become known for?
Moskal: It's not that we're trying to live up to anything. I just think that defense is taught into the program. Guys before us, the great defenses before us, it's something we learn and buy into. We watched them and learned from them.
Walstrum: It's a chain reaction. We saw the players on the teams before us, we strive to work as hard as they did and then the younger kids feed off of that when they see us. It's a chain that just keeps going year after year.
• Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw
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