Football linemen stood on a track, ready to sprint. Race officials holding stopwatches put them down in favor of ... calendars.
"A team would come here for track (in the spring) and we'd have 40 guys running the 100," Round Lake football coach Jordan Eder joked. "Not that we were going to win, but it was something we could track and a way to keep them running and in shape."
Having seen at previous assistant-coaching stops at Grant and Carmel the benefits of football players running track, Eder focused on the strategy after taking over at Round Lake last year. He counted about 70 Panthers who swapped their football cleats for track cleats in the spring.
The results were immediate -- fast.
"Track helped a ton," Eder said. "A lot of guys got a lot faster. I think we were the slowest team last year, and it hurt us. Now, we're moving pretty well."
Now, the Panthers will see how much their improved speed translates on the football field. After an 0-9 campaign in 2012, the Panthers went 1-8 in Eder's first season. They dropped a 27-16 decision to Gordon Tech on Opening Night, pounded Prosser 50-0 the following week, then dropped their final seven games.
A positive for the Panthers: wide receiver Chris Washington (North Park), linebacker Augustin Bahena (Carthage) and tight end Jalen Young (Elmhurst) all decided to continue their football careers in college.
"We were competitive in a lot of games last year," Eder said. "That's what we're going to build on. We won one, and we were competitive in three or four. Now we got to get to the point where we can finish those games and turn them into wins."
Eder employed a spread offense last year, and the Panthers saw some good results, scoring 62 points in their final three games against Grant, Vernon Hills and North Chicago. Round Lake was also competitive in a 34-14 loss at Wauconda in Week 6.
Back is senior Cole Steger, who played both wide receiver and quarterback last season and earned honorable mention all-conference honors. He started two games at QB in place of the injured John Ridley and, by season's end, was splitting reps with Ridley at the position.
"He worked his butt off all off-season," Eder said. "He's looking good."
Steger can make plays with both his feet and his arm.
"He's got a good arm," Eder said. "He's athletic. He can do a lot for us. We're looking forward to seeing what he can do."
The Panthers also have a legitimate threat at running back in senior Chris Perry, who had 8 touchdowns and about 500 rushing yards before a shoulder injury sidelined him the last four weeks.
"He's another guy we're looking to have a big year," Eder said.
The offense also returns lineman Juan Diaz and wide receiver Josh Norkus. Running back Noah Castillo and center Brett Herdman are the only sophomores up on varsity.
"Our O-line isn't the biggest, but we move well and work together as a unit," Eder said.
The veterans on the defensive side of the ball include linebackers Diaz and David Cordova and safeties Alex Gibson and Omar Soto.
Eder, a 2006 graduate of Antioch, was only 25 years old when he got the Round Lake job last season. His maturity and understanding of what it takes for student-athletes to be successful belies his age.
"It's still new, but definitely more comfortable," Eder said of Year 2. "After the first season, you kind of get the hang of things. Not just the coaching aspect, but everything else you got to worry about. Once you go through it once, you have your plan set. The staff has been together for a year. We got a couple of new guys, but we're all on the same page."
Round Lake opens the season with home games against DePaul College Prep and De La Salle. The Panthers host Zion-Benton in their North Suburban Conference crossover in Week 4. In total, they have six contests at home.
"We have big goals this year," Eder said. "We think we can fulfill them if we do what we got to do."
One of those big goals is a five-win season.
"Is that a huge step to take in one year? Yeah," Eder said. "But we're coming out to win and to compete. We're not going to roll over."