Grant's down linemen, from left, Nick Jones, Quinton Quarles and Steven King.
Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer
There were taunts.
There was laughter.
It was embarrassing for Nick Jones.
He will never forget the day that Lakes running back Direll Clark ran into him (and over him) like a Mack truck.
Jones is a senior at Grant, and a starter at linebacker.
He is 6-foot-3 and a solid 220 pounds now, but he was smaller and playing on the sophomore team when he had his run-in with Clark a couple of years ago.
"Direll 'trucked' me," Jones said. "That's when someone basically runs you right over. It was like Direll just ran over the top of me. It was so bad. I could hear people in the stands yelling at me, laughing.
"You never want to get trucked and it had never happened to me before. It was so embarrassing."
Jones gets a shot at redemption on a much bigger stage at 7 p.m. tonight when the Bulldogs host Lakes in a Class 6A second-round playoff game in Fox Lake. Clark is the focal point of the Eagles' offense. He carried the ball 40 times for more than 280 yards in a first-round victory over Rolling Meadows last week.
"We need to contain him because Lakes feeds off his energy," Jones said. "But personally, I just want to totally stop him. I don't want him to have any yards.
"I don't know if you can ever get even after you get trucked, but that would make me feel a little better. I'd feel a little satisfied. We just can't let him play well at all."
It's a tall order, considering that Clark is averaging about 100 rushing yards per game, but maybe not as tall as one would think.
Jones and his buddies on defense have had some luck this season making good players look ordinary, especially since mid-season, when the coaches at Grant revamped the entire defense.
Last week, for instance, the Bulldogs held Antioch fullback Danny Arden, a 1,000-yard rusher, to 63 yards on 18 carries.
"All I kept hearing about was how Antioch had a 1,000-yard rusher and all that," Jones said. "I think people really underestimated our defense."
Five games into the season, the Bulldogs ditched their traditional 4-4 defense in which there are four down linemen and four linebackers and have since been playing a 3-5 defense in which there are only 3 down linemen and five linebackers.
The change seems small on the surface, but it makes the Bulldogs look big and menacing as they wait to tee off from the upright position. Players like Jones, who went from the confines of a down, three-point stance on the line, are now better positioned to take advantage of their speed and athleticism as soon as the ball is hiked.
"Just a few minor changes have made a big change for us," lineman Quinton Quarles said.
Since the change, which has also freed up (and stood up) former down lineman Steven King, and given more space for Quarles to work, Grant has won five of six games and is allowing far fewer points.
The Bulldogs were giving up 28 points per game with their old defense. Besides a slip up in Week 9 in which they let up 34 points to Warren, the Bulldogs have allowed just 10 points per game over the last six weeks.
"This defense has put people in the positions they need to be in to make plays," said Quarles, who leads the Bulldogs in tackles and is followed closely by King and Jones. "Steven and Nick, they're real quick and having them start up instead of down on the line lets them just fly right off the ball right away.
"They're also really big linebackers. When you see guys like that coming at you with a full head of steam, it's pretty unsettling. I know I'd be scared."
Funny thing is, some of the Bulldogs were scared about their new defense at first. Like many people, they dreaded making a change. They were used to their old defense, and comfortable with it.
"At first, I didn't want (the coaching staff) to make any changes," Jones said. "I had been a defensive end for six years and I played down and I was used to that. But as I got the hang of it, I started to love it. I realized I could get to the quarterback faster and I started playing better."
The entire defense played better, and that translated into wins.
"It was incredibly depressing when we were 1-2," King said. "But the way we've been able to turn everything around has been exciting and incredible.
"We're out to prove ourselves this week as the real Prairie Division champions. We've already beaten Antioch twice and now we're going for Lakes.
"We want to show them that we're not the same team that they beat earlier this season. I couldn't be more proud of this team and how we've hung in there and pulled it all together."