Glenbard North inside linebacker Zach Bachara is a starting senior defensive co-captain with lineman Alan Hanna.
Bachara also is an outstanding student who is considering attending Vanderbilt and majoring in biological science for a career in dentistry or the medical field.
"I just like to take the same amount of pride in my schoolwork that I do on the field," Bachara said. "It's just something that's been ingrained in me from my parents. It's just something I have to work at every day."
On Friday Bachara was elated to be part of the defensive lineup's continued growth as fast learners. The Panthers held Lake Park to 91 total yards in a 51-0 DuPage Valley Conference victory in Carol Stream.
The Panthers (5-2, 4-2) previously allowed one touchdown twice this season, including last week's 34-7 home victory over Wheaton North.
"When your offense is playing really well, it takes a lot of pressure off you," Bachara said. "I think our (defensive) camaraderie has gotten a lot better. We've had team bonding sessions. We're been working together a lot better. Practices are a lot more high energy."
The usual high-octane offense fed off senior quarterback Shane Conway's 3 touchdown passes and big games from Vittorio Tricase, Jace James and Isaiah Hawkins.
By halftime the Panthers led 37-0 with 310 total yards and more than half coming on three plays -- a 55-yard TD pass to Tricase on their opening possession, a 67-yard TD pass to James and Tricase's 55-yard TD run.
Lake Park (2-5, 1-5), decimated by injury to several starters, had just 50 total yards after three quarters and was eliminated from playoff contention.
"(Defensive coordinator Rich Smelko and staff) do a great job of prepping our guys -- and they're getting better by the week," Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens said. "They have some really talented receivers and their quarterback (Jackson Behles) can extend plays. Our defense played really well."
Lake Park coach Chris Roll learned early in the week of defensive absences that included Jacub Panasiuk, Christian Cestone, Tommy Zablocki and Diamante Smith, who rebroke his hand after recently returning, as well as center Joe Amore.
"It's no excuse. Everyone deals with it, but it was all kind of in one week," Roll said. "I tried to explain to them during the week that the practices weren't good enough. I just don't think they understood what could happen if we weren't ready, and obviously, they lived it."
The Panthers had 3 interceptions by Josh Flowers and 2 by James, giving him 5 for the season. Linebacker Chino Noeun recovered a fumble and caused another to thwart a rolling Behles on fourth-and-goal at the 10-yard line just before halftime.
"It's coming together," cornerback Tyrik Henderson said. "Not one person can be the whole defense. When we come together and play as a whole team, we can't be stopped."
Tricase rushed for 120 yards and 2 TDs -- all in the first half -- and now has 28 TDs this season, 26 rushing. Hawkins rushed for 107 yards and both second-half TDs.
Henderson caught a 6-yard TD pass from Conway, who has 5 this season with 2 each to Tricase and James. When Lake Park came out trying to stuff the run and had early success, Conway hit Tricase in stride from the 45 on second-and-18. James kept the drive going with a first-down run on a fake punt.
"I could tell pre-snap (Tricase) was just going to blow by (the defense). He's the fastest guy on the field," said Conway, a third-year varsity starter. "Every year, just the game slows down. It's hard to explain, but when you're out there, everything just happens and you can see it better. It comes from experience."