When he sprints onto Libertyville's football field Friday night, Brendan Gallagher will appreciate the adrenaline rush, as well as the view, like he never has before.
Two years ago, the senior played sophomore football. Last year, he chose not to go out for the team.
"Sophomore year, I didn't really have the best time," Gallagher said. "I was playing a position (outside linebacker) I didn't really want to play, and as a junior I wasn't sure how much I was going to play. I really regretted (not going out). I wish I played last year."
Saturday, Gallagher hauled in 3 touchdown passes from quarterback Alex Stanulis and racked up 144 receiving yards on 4 catches, as Libertyville snapped a two-game losing steak by beating host Waukegan 41-14 in North Suburban Conference action. The Wildcats (2-2, 1-1) finally get to play a home game Friday night, against Lake Forest. The home fans will be cheering loudly, something Gallagher did last year as a spectator.
"The first game I was at in the student section everyone (on the football team) ran out and I was like, 'Man, I wish I was out there,' " said Gallagher, a 5-foot-11 slot receiver whose friends finally persuaded him to give football another shot. "I just got to make the most of these last games."
Libertyville coach Mike Jones said his players will wear their all-black uniforms against Lake Forest. The Wildcats got just the confidence boost they needed against Waukegan (0-4, 0-2), busting out to a 20-0 lead with just six minutes gone in the game. Stanulis hit Gallagher for a 44-yard scoring strike on the game's third play from scrimmage. Then one play after Alvin Hemphill returned a punt 35 yards to the Waukegan 2, Brendan Bazar (11 carries, 78 yards) scored the first of his 2 touchdowns, and the visitors' lead was 13-0.
Libertyville made it 3 scores in 3 possessions, as Stanulis threw a 52-yard pass to Gallagher, who sped away from tacklers and angled to the end zone. Stanulis and Gallagher connected from 44 yards out again early in the second quarter.
"We're glad to have him back this year," Stanulis said of Gallagher. "He's been a real weapon for us offensively."
Stanulis finished 10-of-17 passing for 238 yards and 4 touchdowns. His 24-yard TD pass to Nico Calace -- which came after Bazar spun away from tacklers and raced 46 yards into the end zone -- had the Wildcats up 41-0 with 1:09 left in the opening half.
"We were definitely really happy," Stanulis said of the Wildcats' first-half effort, which meant a running clock for the second half. "Offense was firing at all levels, the defense kept the goose egg up for us, offensive line did a great job -- no sacks, no turnovers -- and the receivers had some great yards after catch, too."
The fast start was exactly what Jones was looking for from his club.
"That's the big thing," Jones said. "You don't want to come out sluggish, and we didn't.
"We've been inconsistent," he added. "We executed, we didn't make many mistakes, and I think that was important. We wanted to get some confidence going into next week."
Stanulis, the first-year starter at QB, looked confident in the pocket. A year ago, the 6-2 senior played an entire JV game with a broken thumb on his right (throwing) hand. The injury required surgery.
"He's a tough competitor," Jones said.
Waukegan, which was shut out in its first three games this season, got its first points of 2017 midway through the third quarter when Juan Gonzalez scored from 15 yards out against Libertyville's backups. The Bulldogs scored again, after a Libertyville fumble, on Eriberto Soto's 6-yard TD pass to Chris Harper.
"Even though it was late in the game, when we got those points, it felt good," Waukegan coach Jonathan Hadnott said.
Hadnott, a former assistant at Grayslake North, wasn't named Waukegan's coach until July.
"So I didn't have a whole lot of time with them," Hadnott said. "This is our summer, basically. ... By no means are we throwing away the season or anything like that, but I'm a realist."
Libertyville's reality is that after four weeks, the Wildcats at last get to play a game on their own turf.
"Finally," Gallagher said. "It's going to be great to be at home."