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Could it be the shoes?
Lake Zurich head coach Dave Proffitt doesn't know for sure, but he's looking into anything and everything that could be causing all the ankle trouble his team has encountered in recent weeks.
The undefeated Bears, who are 7-0 overall (4-0 NSC Lake) and the only undefeated team in Lake County, could be down as many as four starters for Friday's North Suburban Conference Lake Division clash at Libertyville, thanks to ankle injuries in every case.
Over the last few weeks, Lake Zurich has had at least a half-dozen players suffer ankle injuries of some kind, from mild to serious.
"I've never seen anything like it before with all the ankle injuries we've had this season," Proffitt said. "Our injuries are all lower extremities. You start to wonder what it could be. Is it the shoes? Are they just not made as well as they used to be?
"Is it the way we train? I'm reading articles about it and I'm thinking we need to do more with ankle strengthening."
Proffitt says that starting next off-season, his players will get the usual dose of football-related strength training, such as squats and bench. But exercises for easy-to-overlook areas such as the ankle will also be added prominently to the mix.
"It's easy to get caught up in training all the big skeletal muscles when you're dealing with a football team," Proffitt said. "Sometimes you overlook areas with all the small ligaments and tendons, but those need to be strengthened, too. We'll be training the ankle this off-season."
Through his research, Proffitt also discovered a new device that slips over the ankle to offer added protection. He's toying with the idea of adding the slip-on brace to the team wardrobe for next season.
With team speed being so key to the Bears' fast defense and quick ground game, Proffitt says he can't afford to have bad wheels causing any slowdowns.
"We're looking into a lot of different things so that we don't have this problem again," Proffitt said.
In the meantime, some Bears are trying to play through their injuries, particularly if they aren't too severe.
Proffitt says that while some starters may be out for the Libertyville game, key players such as Sean Lynch, Zane Lodico, Joey Holtz, Sam Walstrum and Dylan Schassler should all be healthy enough to play despite being slowed recently by various injuries.
The record books are a bit unclear.
But it seems likely that Lake Zurich is on the verge of some significant history. With wins over the next two weeks, against Libertyville and Stevenson, the Bears could become the first football team in school history to run the table during the regular season.
According to the IHSA website, the 7-0 Bears have never had better than a 1-loss regular season since 1987. Odds are, though, that it's been even longer than that.
"I'm not sure when or ever," Lake Zurich coach Dave Proffitt said of the possibility of a previous undefeated regular season for the football team. "It would be special, but to be honest, we're not even thinking about that right now. We're not talking about it or anything.
"It's not that we're avoiding the subject. It's out there. But right now, we're just trying to get better and the most important thing to us is (Friday's opponent) Libertyville. It's my job as a head coach not to let our kids get caught up in anything other than what's at hand."
Ironically, it was Libertyville that ruined Lake Zurich's first legitimate shot at an undefeated regular season. That was in 2006 when the Bears, led by Matt Blanchard and Kyle Skarb, finished 12-2. They lost to Libertyville 10-9 in Week 4 and then advanced all the way to the Class 7A title game before losing to St. Rita, 35-21.
The next season, Lake Zurich won the 2007 Class 7A state title by edging Wheaton Warrenville South (7-3) on a Jon Janus touchdown. But the Bears finished with a 13-1 overall record, thanks to a Week 1 loss to Fremd, 27-20.
In 2010, behind Jacob Brinlee and JJ Raffelson, the Bears also made it to the Class 7A state title game but lost this time to Wheaton Warrenville South, 28-17. The only other blemish for Lake Zurich was a 24-23 Week 6 loss to Stevenson.
Hooray for Holtz:
It's been a long road back for Joey Holtz.
The Lake Zurich senior was tabbed to be one of the top backs this season in the Bears' punishing run-oriented offense.
But Holtz suffered a knee injury just before the season opened, and he's been rehabbing furiously ever since.
He's about to see his work pay off.
Lake Zurich coach Dave Proffitt says Holtz should be ready for live action on Friday at Libertyville. The timing is perfect as the 7-0 Bears could use some fresh legs as they try to keep their unbeaten streak going.
"Joey was going to be our starting back and it's too bad that we haven't seen him all year," Proffitt said. "He hurt his knee a week before the season started. He tore his meniscus and had surgery. We'll be going slowly with him, but we're glad to have him back."
Lake Zurich is going to need to be ready for everything, and maybe even the kitchen sink when it travels to Libertyville on Friday.
The 3-4 Wildcats are fighting for their playoff lives. They need to win out to reach the 5-win mark to have any hope of qualifying on playoff points, which are based on opponent wins.
Libertyville, which finishes with Lake Zurich and Zion-Benton, has 31 playoff points, which is second-most among Class 7A teams that are 3-4.
"That's what I would do," Lake Zurich coach Dave Proffitt said of opening his entire playbook and being prepared to use anything if he was in Libertyville's position. "We've got to be ready for anything. Libertyville always plays us tough anyway, but right now, that's a very dangerous team because they have to win."
One trick play that has worked well for the Wildcats accounted for their only touchdown in last week's 38-7 loss to Lake Forest. Riley Lees caught a 71-yard touchdown pass from Conor Simpson on the halfback option.
"I think every coach has a few of those kinds of plays in their back pocket, and you've got to be ready to use them," Libertyville coach Mike Jones said. "But we also have to be able to execute our regular offense. That's been our biggest problem this season is that we've been really inconsistent trying to do that."
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