Senior Stefan Skoneczka has been a big contributor on bothsides of the ball for Elk Grove.
Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer
Soothing the bumps and bruises by spending a few minutes in a big tub of ice has become a postgame ritual for Stefan Skoneczka.
The Elk Grove senior accrues his share of them playing inside linebacker and usually getting tough inside yardage at running back. Especially since just about everyone on the field is bigger than the 5-feet-4, 170 pounds Skoneczka is listed at on the roster.
There is one thing ice doesn't do, however, for someone who still hears the whispers of whether he can really handle those jobs at his size.
It doesn't cool his competitive desire.
"Once I moved to inside linebacker and got the chance to play there, I took it to heart," Skoneczka said after Saturday's Class 7A first-round playoff win over Conant. "I love when people challenge me. When people doubt me it feeds the fire."
No one from Elk Grove is going to doubt the role Skoneczka has played in the 9-1 record it takes into Saturday's 1 p.m. second-round playoff visit by 9-1 Machesney Park Harlem.
"Honestly, he's a bowling ball," said Elk Grove senior teammate and close friend Dejan Basara with a laugh. "He's five (foot) nothing - but he's as tough as they come."
Skoneczka has displayed the ability to strike down some pretty big pins all season.
His offensive role grew when Basara missed five-plus games with a broken collarbone. He has responded with a team-high 711 yards rushing and 6 touchdowns on 131 carries and 26 catches for 160 yards and 2 touchdowns.
And he doesn't spare any physical expense when it's his turn to take on bigger offensive linemen and ballcarriers.
"Without a doubt I've always been the shortest kid every single year," Skoneczka said. "I have to rely on being physical.
"I know for a fact everyone will be bigger than me. Since I was little I've tried to beat them any way I can."
Skoneczka actually started out in youth football in second grade as a lineman and usually played up with older kids. As he slimmed out he moved to linebacker and running back as he approached high school.
Skoneczka originally was in line to become part of one of the state's most successful football programs at Driscoll. He played on the school's sophomore team as a freshman and was up with the varsity in the postseason but the Catholic school in Addison closed that spring.
"It was a good football program and good academics," Skoneczka said. "I loved it my freshman year. When it closed I was heartbroken."
Skoneczka said he considered going to Nazareth and St. Viator. But financial considerations and the chance to reunite with old friends led him to Elk Grove.
"It's been the greatest decision of my life," Skoneczka said. "I couldn't be happier."
It didn't take long for Skoneczka to get comfortable. As a sophomore, he was joking around one practice with current teammates Chris Barreto and Fernando Lozano.
Barreto mentioned how short Skoneczka's arms are and the nickname "Stubby" has stuck to where it's even used by his parents.
But making sure he fulfills all aspects of his job is no joke to Skoneczka. Particularly when Basara suffered a broken collarbone that prevented him from playing linebacker for four-plus games and kept him out at quarterback until last week against Conant.
"When your quarterback gets hurt you feel you've done something wrong," Skoneczka said. "I was crying in the locker room afterward because he's my best friend.
"No one is going to touch my quarterback ever again. I vowed to make sure Adam (sophomore O'Malley) and Dejan don't get touched."
Skoneczka hopes that kind of determination will help him continue to succeed at the next level. He said he has interest from Carroll and Carthage in Wisconsin and Northern Arizona with plans to study physical and health education to become a teacher and football coach.
"I see all of our coaches and how much they love the game of football," said Skoneczka, who has a 4.5 grade-point average on a 5.0 scale and scored 25 on the ACT. "I don't think I'll ever stop loving this game."
That has already taken him to greater heights than many people had envisioned.