DeKALB -- When a football program wins its first state championship in a pigskin history dating to 1909, there are a lot of angles to look at.
Batavia's 34-14 win over Richards to capture the Class 6A title Saturday at Northern Illinois University encompasses the things that make the town special -- community, hard work and history itself.
"We've known since eighth grade that we had a chance to do something special," said senior linebacker Anthony Thielk, who made 4 tackles and one of the Bulldogs' 3 interceptions.
"Ever since then everything that this team and these seniors have said that we're going to do -- besides going undefeated in the season -- we've done. I think it was almost fate," he said.
"The one team we lost to, the one goal we didn't accomplish was (going) undefeated, and we saw them in the state championship. We showed up today to play. It's unreal."
Some, like Thielk, played on Batavia's 2011 team that was eliminated in the Class 6A semifinals. Some earned valuable practice time that enabled them to rub shoulder pads with those successful players and see what it took to approach a championship level.
"We always referenced the 2011 team like, we want to be them, and kind of put them on the pedestal, like that's what we want to be because we know how physical and dominant they were on defense as well as offense," said senior defensive tackle Ryan Minniti. "So we always said we want to be like 2011. And now, hopefully, future generations are like, we want to be like '13."
Batavia coach Dennis Piron said earlier this week that avenging Richards' 31-25 victory in Week 2 wouldn't be a huge factor for the Bulldogs on Saturday. Coming after the season-opening victory over powerful Glenbard North, however, it set a certain benchmark.
"It really helped us," said junior center Patrick Gamble who did, yes, bring up the revenge factor. "We've gone the last two seasons undefeated (through the regular season) until now, and that loss really brought us together even closer. It did more for us in the long run to make us work harder and realize we can be beat -- and what it's going to take to not be beat."
Piron noted in the postgame news conference at NIU's Yordon Center one of the things this championship team required was a young offensive line maturing. As he said that, Thielk, running back Anthony Scaccia and quarterback Micah Coffey nodded their heads.
"I credit everything that we did today to our offensive line," said Coffey, a near model of efficiency with 15 completions in 18 attempts for 229 yards and touchdown passes to seniors Michael Moffatt and Rourke Mullins.
They say championships are won in the offseason. Safety Forrest Gilbertson, a two-year starter who also got reps on the 2011 team, agreed.
"Really, it's just taken a dedicated group of guys," Gilbertson said. "It's not just football season, it's all the time in the offseason. Every day in the weight room we're working out, we're training. Over Christmas break we're training, we're working hard, and that's what it takes. It takes a dedicated group of guys who really want to get better throughout the season and improve every week."
Gilbertson also echoed Piron, a 1983 Batavia graduate, in noting the role the community plays. At Huskie stadium the "Dawg Pound" was in full throat, and the Batavia contingent was probably the largest of the day. After shaking the Richards' players' hands the Bulldogs raced over to the student section to celebrate.
"For us it plays a huge part," Gilbertson said. "We know our community supports us 100 percent. They're at every football game, our stadium's always rocking, we've always got a big student section. We always know our community's behind us. It's awesome. It's one of the greatest things we have."
Another great Batavia has is a nice group of returning starters: linebacker Jake Hlava, safety Nick Bernabei, defensive ends Noah Frazier and Josh Leonhard, offensive linemen Gamble, Jack Breshears, Zach Tate and Mitch Krusz, out the second half of the season due to injury.
"It gives us motivation to want to get back here again," Frazier said. "We've got a great group of guys, and off-season starts now, really. We've got other sports, but back to work, back on the grind and get ready for next year. I can't wait."
Piron will wait one week. Then it'll be full-speed ahead toward the title defense.
"What it might mean for our program? That kids will do what we say all the time, because these guys did," he said, smiling. "They'll put in the work, they'll put in the effort. But in the end, it's just simple -- they're players."