Rolling Meadows' Pedraza the poster child for hard work paying off
Minutes after the alarm goes off each morning, the bed gets made.
Because a made bed, in Nate Pedraza's mind, can set the tone for the entire rest of the day.
And Pedraza's busy days, by the way, often get started at 4 or 5 in the morning.
"I don't take things off, even little things, even daily things like making my bed. That's goal No. 1 each day ... make the bed," Pedraza said. "I'm all about staying disciplined. That's been a huge factor in my daily life. I set goals each day, and I make sure I get them done. If I don't make my bed, I think that might show in other things in my life, like at practice."
And Pedraza, a two-time, All-State senior defensive lineman for Rolling Meadows who likes to work out in the early morning hours to get his day off to a strong start, wants to dominate at practice too. He makes a habit of being just as intense at practice as he is in games.
In the moments after the Mustangs closed the books on the 2019 season with a 42-14 loss to visiting Nazareth in Saturday's Class 7A semifinals, Rolling Meadows head coach Matt Mishler reflected on the extraordinary work ethic and mentality of Pedraza, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound 3-year varsity starter who will be playing on scholarship at Ball State next season.
Mishler has often said that Pedraza, who is 28-6 as a varsity starter (including a 22-2 record over the last two years), is one of the best players he has ever coached.
"I didn't know Nate made his bed every day, but that doesn't surprise me that he's up and immediately doing something each day," Mishler said. "Nate's a doer. He just has to be doing something.
"What I'll remember about Nate is his motor. He just never ever quits or stops. He's always going 100 miles per hour. There are times in practice when I'll look over to the sideline and there's Nate doing pushups on his own. I'll be like 'Nate, you can take a break, it's ok.' But he just wants to do it. He's probably afraid he won't keep getting strong if he stands still for more than 5 seconds. It's just how he is. The example he sets with his work ethic and how hard he plays has meant a lot to this program."
Likewise, the program has meant a lot to Pedraza.
He says he is a different person now than when he joined the varsity freshman year as a backup.
"When I was a freshman, I was immature," Pedraza said. "Over the years, over time, the coaches, with all that we do with this team, just taught me how to be a great young man.
"It's more than just football. If you think about it, the games are only a little part of football. You've got the practices, you've got the team bonding events, you've got the charities, the food drives for people who are starving. We do toy drives for children who don't have toys. We do so much outside of football, too. It's about building you into how to be a young man. Football is a great sport, my favorite sport, but football is what makes me who I am and if I didn't do it, I'd be a totally different person."
Because of football, Pedraza is now getting a free college education, and the perfect training ground for what he wants to do next in life. He wants to learn how to be a strength and conditioning trainer for a college football team.
He's already got some ammunition for how to motivate.
"I know what I do, how I (stay motivated), is that I kind of have this mindset from this thing I heard: that when you are sleeping, someone else is working," Pedraza said. "That's why I get up at 4 in the morning. Maybe someone else is already out there jogging around the neighborhood, some other football player. And if I'm sleeping, I'm (not going to keep up). I just always want to get better. Hard work does pay off."
It has for Pedraza. He has been one of the most successful and highly-touted players in Rolling Meadows history.
The history part of it, and referring to Rolling Meadows football in the past tense hasn't hit Pedraza quite yet. While many of his fellow seniors were in tears in the wake of their loss to Nazareth, Pedraza remained stoic.
"I try not to cry, although I did tear up a little with about 90 seconds left as I realized that this was going to be my last game on this field and my last game in this uniform," Pedraza said. "But then I look back and I feel really good because this has been one heck of a ride."
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw