So just how close was Stevenson to playing in the Class 8A state championship game last fall?
"Inches…and minutes," Stevenson coach Bill McNamara said.
The Patriots lost in the final moments of the semifinals to Loyola, 15-14. Stevenson took a 14-7 lead with about five minutes left but then Loyola answered with a touchdown with about a minute to play. The Ramblers then took the lead by making good on a 2-point conversion.
"It (the conversion) was a pass that was about six inches from getting deflected," McNamara said. "There haven't been many times since then that we haven't thought about how our season ended last year."
That heartbreak and frustration has served as a motivator for the current Patriots, who could be just as good, if not better, as last year's near-miss state finals team that finished 10-3 and won the North Suburban Conference Lake Division.
Back in the driver's seat is senior quarterback Willie Bourbon, who has been starting since his sophomore year. He's passed for about 4,500 yards over his career so far, and he's also a threat on the ground. Bourbon ran for around 700 yards last season.
Bourbon ended speculation about the future of his career when he recently committed to Northwestern. But not for football. Also a standout on the diamond, Bourbon will be playing baseball in college.
"We are so happy for Willie and I'm not surprised (about Bourbon's choice of baseball) because he's such a good baseball player, too, and he really split his time equally between the two sports," McNamara said. "I hope he's now able to feel that the pressure is off him this season and that we can give him some lasting memories as he finishes his football career."
A future Northwestern classmate should be able to help with that. Wide receiver Cameron Green recently committed to play football at Northwestern. Green and Matt Morrissey, who is now playing football at Michigan State, gave Stevenson one of the best receiving duos in the state last season.
"Cameron just keeps improving," McNamara said. "He keeps working on his game, every aspect from catching to running routes to working on his cuts and moves."
The other big name back on the Stevenson offense is running back Jack Joseph, who rushed for about 900 yards last season.
"He's made the biggest strides on our team in the offseason," McNamara said of Joseph. "He's worked so hard."
Junior wide receiver Jack Sorenson, who was the quarterback of the sophomore team last year but was brought up for the playoffs and caught a clutch postseason touchdown as a receiver, will also be a big-play threat for the Patriots.
Defensively, Stevenson returns five starters, including standout linebackers Jimmy Marchese and Jason Vravick, and senior lineman Nick Dillon, who's been a starter since his sophomore year and recently committed to Eastern Michigan.
"The foundation of Stevenson football is our defense," McNamara said. "We lost some key guys from our defense (to graduation), but we still have some solid athletes there this year. We'll be ready to go. We're anxious to get a game under our belt and see how our defense responds when it's tested.
"We are very proud of our successes last year and would like to continue to build on those."