Spartans' talented football roster focuses on the details
Dominate the details.
That's the message Glenbrook North football coach Matt Purdy stressed to the boys.
"We all know we have a difficult schedule, we always have a difficult schedule, so we have to dominate with details," he said.
"We have to play a great football game and play physical, grind football games out. It has to be a 48-minute game, and we just have to have a little bit more of an edge to us when we're out on the field on Friday nights."
Should the Spartans execute that detail and play with grit in all three phases, there's talent here, and leadership in coaching positions, to create a solid season.
Exclusively calling plays for the spread offense for the first time in four years is former Spartans head coach Bob Pieper, the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee. He'll be able to work with potentially a three-year starter at quarterback, sophomore J.J. Schlenhardt.
Purdy described Schlenhardt as smart, elusive and able to throw the football into tight spots.
In the 3-6 fall campaign of 2021, all-Central Suburban League South honoree Jack Philbin's main impact came in the defensive secondary as Glenbrook North's top tackler, as well as a kick returner always threatening to break one. A junior receiver and free safety, Philbin will be all over the place on offense, perhaps even supporting returning running back Reese Marquez in surprise attacks.
Another all-conference selection last fall as a sophomore, tight end and outside linebacker Patrick Schaller, 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, has an offer from Western Michigan and Big Ten interest. He can catch, has quick feet from playing basketball, rocks it downhill on defense, and looks to pick up on his 12 receptions and 4.5 tackles for loss of a year ago.
"He has all the skills," Purdy said.
The fourth-year head coach likes the flexibility and depth of his skilled positions with Schaller, Philbin, Marquez and receivers McCartney Kalmar, Tarek Taha and Connor Durst.
Purdy said a primary focus is improvement on the offensive line. That unit gets a good head start by returning starters Ryan Lofland, Patrick Mahoney and 6-3, 265-pound left guard Max Mulvihill. Left tackle Matt Gasior is a 6-foot, 245-pound sophomore.
Line play will be a continued emphasis until, as last year's statistics indicated, there are less attempted third-down conversions from 8 yards or more (54) than there are conversion attempts from within 7 yards (33).
The Spartans managed 538 yards rushing in 2021, and averaged 4 yards per play.
A defense now led by 2010 Glenbrook North graduate Eliot Fields moves to a 4-2 scheme, with outside linebackers Schaller and Kalmar setting up off the edge and Owen Washlow and Anar Binderiya on the inside.
As with the offensive skill spots, Purdy is excited about depth, particularly up front.
"You're going to get the big, strong guys out there (like Mahoney, burly nose tackle Laith Salim and 6-4 defensive end Jordan Kane), you're going to get the little, quick guys that wreak havoc," Purdy said, pointing to a player like high-motor, 165-pound disrupter Nick Raju.
The three-man defensive backfield looks set with Philbin at free safety and a pair of athletic, 6-2 cornerbacks in Durst and Graham Gottschild.
In 2021, Philbin's 68 tackles were 28 more than the Spartans' runner-up in that category. Active safeties are great, but tackles are preferably the province of linebackers. The defensive line shields linebackers from blockers through a variety of means, both tangible and intangible.
"I think our biggest area of improvement is raising our standards for a Friday night football game. To compete against teams week in and week out," Purdy said.
"These guys are fun to be around, they've got a lot of energy. They've made this job fun. I'm looking forward to standing out there and watching them battle on Friday night."