The coach who led Dundee-Crown to the postseason for the first time in 19 years has moved on, but the desire to be a playoff football team remains ingrained.
Coach Vito Andriola led the Chargers not only to a 6-4 record and a playoff berth before he left to take the vacant Grant job, he led the program back to respectability.
New coach Mike Steinhaus, a proud D-C graduate who served as Andriola's offensive coordinator, aims to keep the program in the thick of the playoff race on an annual basis.
"We want to go out there and compete and make the playoffs, and that will be our goal every year," Steinhaus said. "Once you get that taste like we did last year, that's what you want to do. My program is based on competition. We're going to go out there and compete to be the best team we can be. If that's the playoffs, great. We want the playoffs. But we're going to compete every week to the best of our ability."
The Chargers face some obstacles in their quest for a repeat postseason bid -- only three defensive starters return and four offensive linemen must be replaced -- but they also have some veteran skill position players back who can change the course of a game instantly.
Atop that list is senior Malik Dunner (5-foot-11, 188 pounds), a talented safety and running back. He committed this summer to play for the same Ball State program Steinhaus played for under coach Brady Hoke, now at Michigan. A top tackler, Dunner grabbed one interception and rushed for 233 yards and 4 touchdowns in limited carries.
Steinhaus said Dunner could get more chances to carry the ball as a senior, the perfect complement to senior running back Caleb Parson, Dundee-Crown's leading rusher a year ago, Parson carried for over 900 yards, third among returning running backs areawide. His 13 touchdowns were the most among returning rushers, tying him with Jacobs standout Josh Walker.
The Chargers rarely threw the ball last season. Of their 2,410 total yards, 177 were gained through the air. Though senior quarterback Jeff Atherton returns a more capable passer, according to his coach, the emphasis remains the running game behind Parson and Dunner.
"We're going to do what we need to do to win games," Steinhaus said. "If we have to run the ball 40 times a game, that's what we're going to do. Jeff has really put in the work this summer. He's really improved his game, and he has the ability to be a pretty good high school passer. If we need him, we know we can count on him. That's another facet to our offense that teams may have to be aware of."
One starter returns on the offensive line, but he's a good one: John Mosley, a 6-3, 300-pound junior.
Multisport athlete Kiwaun Seals returns at wide receiver and senior Alonzo Alvarado (6-2, 210) gets the starting nod at tight end.
Defensively, the Chargers return a pair of dependable linebackers in seniors Zach Thelen and Jarrod Rapp. They join Dunner as the only returnees who played full time, however, senior lineman Brett Peters (6-0, 210) and junior Albert Putlak (6-0, 205) each saw significant playing time. Junior nose guard Christian Rodriguez should have an impact based on his play in camp, his coach said.
Can the Chargers put it all together and make back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 1986-87?
"We have great kids. They've bought in and worked their butt off," Steinhaus said. "They got a little taste of the playoffs and they haven't forgotten about that. They know everything they've done is to get that taste back in their mouth because they liked it. We've got a lot of athletes. Now it's about fitting those pieces together so we can have a successful season."