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Daily Herald's 2016 Season Coverage
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updated: 10/27/2016 4:23 PM

Thanks to these pieces, the playoff puzzle came together

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  • Wheeling's T.J. Best, here grabbing a pass in front of Schaumburg's Anthony Nix, made a big difference by excelling as a receiver this fall.

      Wheeling's T.J. Best, here grabbing a pass in front of Schaumburg's Anthony Nix, made a big difference by excelling as a receiver this fall.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • St. Viator's Sam Calmeyn, right, and Darreontae Jackson celebrate after a score against Carmel.

      St. Viator's Sam Calmeyn, right, and Darreontae Jackson celebrate after a score against Carmel.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
By Marty Maciaszek
Special to the Daily Herald

A lot of pieces are required to put together the puzzle of a high school football playoff team.

Some of those pieces take longer to find than others and they may not have fit in immediately for a variety of reasons.

They may have needed to be plugged into a different spot. They were trying to rebound from injuries. Or they just took more time to develop.

Here are a few stories of players who have come a long way -- some in a short time -- to become solid fits to teams playing in the postseason this weekend.

Barrington

Luke Coon, DL: Coon figured to follow in the footsteps of his older brother Jake, who was a three-year starter at linebacker for the Broncos. But Luke was moved to the defensive line after his sophomore year and then spent his junior year as part of the "Dirty Show" scout-team defense, which prepares the offense for Friday nights.

Coon wanted his shot to shine under the Friday night lights and got it this year as the Broncos finished the regular season 8-1. The way Coon does his job of taking on double teams and holding the line of scrimmage doesn't draw a lot of attention, but it allows his teammates to run to the ball and make plays.

"He did a great job for us last year going up against our starting offensive line, but like any player he wanted more," said Barrington coach Joe Sanchez. "He really pushed himself this offseason to get ready for his senior year and he has done a tremendous job all season. He is a tremendous teammate who is willing to do whatever it takes to be successful."

Fremd

Michael Constantino, LB: A shoulder injury which required surgery and sidelined Constantino last season was among the concerns about him handling the physical rigors of playing linebacker in the Mid-Suburban League. But Constantino was committed physically and mentally to not just playing that spot but leading the Vikings' defense.

He attended as many offseason film study and chalk talk sessions as possible and became the equivalent of a coach on the field for a unit that has allowed the third-fewest points in the league. Constantino excelled by also showing he could be quick and physical to help Fremd make its fifth straight playoff trip and 21st in the last 22 seasons.

"Michael is one of the most resilient and dedicated players I have had the opportunity to coach," said Fremd coach Lou Sponsel. "He puts the program and his teammates first 100 percent of the time. He is what every coach wants in a leader. Michael not only led his peers in 2016, but he left his imprint on the program that the future classes will follow to continue our success at Fremd."

Hoffman Estates

Mishon Bradford, S: Four years ago Bradford came in as a freshman and former Fremd coach Mike Donatucci came out of retirement to a Hoffman program coming off six winless finishes in the previous 11 years. Now the 5-foot-8, 173-pound senior is starting at safety and the 6-3 Hawks are headed to the postseason for the first time in 22 years.

Bradford worked hard to be a big part. He came up to the varsity when Hoffman didn't have a sophomore team and last year saw limited action as a third cornerback. But his off-season commitment in the weight room led to his move into the starting lineup.

"He's a smart kid and he comes out the first day of practice and is as sharp as can be," Donatucci said. "These are the things you hope happen to a kid over the process of four years. He's a textbook program kid. He's one of those quiet leaders who goes about his business and you know he'll be there and do the right thing."

Leyden

Jalen Moore, WR-DB: It would be difficult to find more that Moore could have done in leading Leyden to its first West Suburban Gold title and playoff berth since 2012. Moore verbally committed to Southern Illinois to play in the secondary and few teams have committed to challenging him as his interception total of two is "mostly because no one will throw the ball his way," said Leyden coach Tom Cerasani.

Moore was up with the varsity the summer before his sophomore year but wound up staying on the underclass level because he missed so much time with a pulled hamstring. Last year he played full-time on defense and saw occasional action on offense, but this year he averages 20 yards every time he touches the ball rushing or receiving and 28 yards on kickoff returns.

"Jalen became the player we always thought he would be this season," Cerasani said. "He always had great ability, and last year showed flashes of what he could do, but this year he has established himself as a dominant player. This is mostly because of the level of confidence he has in himself and commitment he has to his teammates."

Palatine

Jack Grochowski, WR: Grochowski is one of three senior starters ­-- along with LB Scottie Elter (torn ACL) and DB J.T. Streepy (two knee surgeries) -- who had to work hard to come back from serious injuries last year to help the Pirates to an unbeaten regular season and Mid-Suburban West title. Grochowski missed the first half his junior season with an avulsion to his pelvis and did come back for the Pirates' run to the Class 8A semifinals.

Being fully healthy has led to the kind of season the Pirates and Grochowski envisioned. He has caught 35 passes for more than 600 yards and 8 TDs, has kicked 3 field goals and converted 44 of 48 extra points and is receiving recruiting interest from Ivy League schools.

"Jack is an unselfish kid that wants to play, contribute and have fun with his buddies," said Palatine coach Rick Splitt. "His determination to never experience a setback in his athletic career is a motivating factor for him. He is a dynamite athlete and contributor who has been a huge part of our success this year."

Rolling Meadows

Marco Perez, NT: Playing bigger than 5-feet-9, 215 pounds is just the start of the compliments the senior nose tackle will get from Meadows coach Matt Mishler. Perez is also regarded as a bulldog by Mishler for the way he has fueled a defense that allowed only 64 points.

As a junior, Perez forced his way into the starting lineup at midseason with his play on the scout team. And his impact increased this year as Meadows won its fifth straight Mid-Suburban East title, joined the 2000 team as the only ones in program history to have a perfect regular season and is a victory away from setting the single-season school record of 10.

"He plays like he's 6-4, 290 and he plays with an unbelievable motor and passion," Mishler said. "He just keeps getting after it until the whistle is blown or the game is over. He kept forcing us to notice him and he's never looked back."

St. Viator

Sam Calmeyn, WR: The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Calmeyn did not play much last season as the Lions finished 1-8. But he has started every game this season for first-year coach Dave Archibald to help the 5-4 Lions become one of seven playoff teams out of the rugged East Suburban Catholic Conference.

Calmeyn is not one of Viator's top targets but he is a quick and trusted possession receiver with 7 catches for 65 yards. He has also played running back and because of injuries he even helped out on the offensive line.

"Sam brings a huge smile, joy and energy to our team," Archibald said. "He is extremely personable and almost perpetually positive. He gives his heart to every play and every assignment, and his selflessness includes giving full effort on our scout offense, thereby increasing our defensive progress."

Wheeling

T.J. Best, LB-WR: Last year was the worst of times for Best as the projected starting safety and wide receiver was unable to play because of injury. But a move to a hybrid linebacker-defensive back position inspired the defense and his offense has been a huge boost as Wheeling won its last four games to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Wheeling coach Brent Pearlman said Best made the position change late in the summer without any questions. He was gradually worked in at receiver and has 39 catches for 572 yards -- with 21 for 359 and 4 touchdowns in the last two games.

"He's been a catalyst to our defense and his courage rubbed off on a huge part of our team," Pearlman said. "He's not a very big kid so he changed our mentality quite a bit. We weren't going to play him on offense at all and now he's the leading receiver on the team. He's just a good solid kid, player and leader."

marty.maciaszek@gmail.com

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