Finally! High school football arrives for the Glenbrooks
As if illustrating the weirdness and hazard thrust on people since high school football was last played in Illinois 17 months ago, in sunny 52-degree weather Glenbrook North coach Matt Purdy navigated a grungy sideline snowbank on the afternoon of March 3, the first day of practice in this delayed, abbreviated, formerly-2020-but-now-2021 season.
"It's a rare time, but the excitement is no different from normal," Purdy said.
Spartans players had been in and out of his office all day, anxious and ready. They'd been through solo workouts, garage weightlifting, a speed and conditioning camp, a summer camp, one round of 20 contact days provided by the Illinois High School Association, more delay, and then another round.
Finally, though, now a football season. At this point, that it only runs six games falls in the "so-what" category.
"We're just excited to be out here and have a chance," said Purdy, the former Iowa lineman. "They get it, they get what we're faced with, what's put on our society. You know, there's challenges ahead, but I think our guys are smart, and they'll do everything they can to maintain the safety requirements that are given to us."
Only a few hours before Mt. Carmel, on Chicago's South Side, was reported to have postponed football for two weeks due to COVID concerns, the Spartans were masked up and getting barked at by coaches seeking proper calisthenics technique.
"Definitely being together again for sure helps everybody on the roster," said Spartans senior linebacker and tight end Luke Henry, a team co-captain along with Avery Burow, Jackson Carsello and Drake Marquez.
"Everybody in this practice loves the game of football, that's the reason there. So being able to be together as one whole unit definitely brings excitement to the practices."
The sense of community is tangible despite, yet also because of, the loss of one of their own. Quarterback Dylan Buckner's early January death epitomized the overall grief of struggling through the pandemic.
Burow and junior Andrew Smith are two of the young men who will attempt to fill the position, but not the memory, of Glenbrook North's all-time leader in passing attempts and completions.
Burow said he modeled his grip on the football, his release of the ball, even the way he taped his wrist, like his friend.
"Everything I thought about and tried to do is doing what he has told me in the past," said the 6-foot-1 senior.
He feels that Buckner is still with him.
"Very much so, yes," Burow said.
"We're going to miss him," Purdy said, "a great leader and just a great kid. But these guys understand that right now we have a task at hand and we have a six-game season plus three weeks of prep so we're going to put our head down and go -- just like Dylan did.
"I mean, that was the type of player Dylan was. He was going to go ahead and take care of his business, and that's what we're going to do."
A day later and 20 degrees colder, on Thursday Glenbrook South took to its turf field for the first time. The start of the season was so welcome that even Wednesday's practice at an indoor facility, held at a bracing 5:45 a.m., was termed "really nice" by Titans quarterback Michael Bauer.
"I think it's good to get going with the guys," he said Thursday before swapping his knit hat for a helmet.
Cornerback Anthony Travlos was one of those guys wearing shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. Normally when football starts up it's heat acclimation, not icicle accumulation, that is a concern.
Travlos, he just don't care.
"At this point the weather doesn't matter. We're here to play," he said.
"Snow, ice, wind, rain, no matter what it is, we're ready to play. Friday nights, Saturdays. Time and place, tell me when, tell me where, and I'll be there."
Michael Carney is a power lifter when he's not taking reps at linebacker or halfback. Many were the times when he and his buddies had to remain disciplined and optimistic, down in the basement lifting weights, when it seemed COVID was lining up in the victory formation.
"There's always that doubt in your head," Carney said, "but you've got to clear it."
In groups, the Titans lined up on the field's sidelines and sprinted to the near hash marks. They reset, and sprinted back. Then they did it again. And again.
They broke into groups by position to start a series of drills, such as one where a defender comes up behind a ball carrier to strip the football loose.
It was done at half-speed. Can't go 100 percent on Day 1. Plus, much of the work has been done, between the ears.
"I think this year more than ever, film has been a key part to our success because there's just limited reps that we're able to get," said linebacker-tailback Will Solis. "So the more amount of mental preparation that we can come out for, the better.
"And obviously, lifting is going to be more important this year than ever because that's really all we've been able to do for a long time. The limited time has definitely been a factor. But I think the mental part of the game, we're going to be better than any other team," he said.
They didn't know it then, but after practice Glenbrook South coach Dave Schoenwetter would be naming Bauer, Travlos, Carney and Solis as team captains.
Schoenwetter was one of those, too, when he quarterbacked the Titans under his father, Bob Schoenwetter, the head coach.
This unique season, Dave believes, will be different from any before. And that's OK.
"Do I think that without a full summer camp, jumping right into the conference schedule, everything's going to look great right away? No," he said.
"But I just don't even know if that's what this year is about. I think this year is really about giving these kids an opportunity to have some normalcy and send our seniors out in a way that they deserve to be sent out."