This year, Libertyville's looking for the edge
It's been said that football is a game of inches.
If that's the case, Libertyville was operating in "ruler mode" for much of last season.
The Wildcats finished with a 5-5 record, just one year after getting to the Class 7A state championship game. But head coach Mike Jones says that 5-5 mark was a bit deceiving and his players are out to show it this season.
"Last year, we were in every game," said Jones, whose team lost its five regular season games by an average of about 11 points per game. "We lost in double overtime to Batavia, we were right there with Stevenson in the fourth quarter. We could have just as easily been 6-3 or 7-2.
"It was about consistency last year. The little things. We've got to be ready with our assisgnments and technique on every down and I think our kids this year are ready for that. They are like, 'This is our turn, let's go.'"
Libertyville lost to Bradley Bourbonnais, the team it defeated in the semifinals on its way to state in 2015, in the first round of the playoffs last season.
Jones says a big difference between this year's team and last year's team is an intangible that is tough to teach.
"We're going to have a lot more athleticism this year, especially on offense," Jones said. "We've got some speed and some really good skills."
One offensive player who showed both of those attributes on many occassions last season is running back Brendan Bazar. He's a bit undersized at 5-foot-9, but Bazar was a workhorse for the Wildcats, getting a bulk of the carries, and was tough to bring down.
Bazar is a senior this season.
"Brendan is just a really steady player and is very consistent and he'll be a big part of what we do again," Jones said. "The nice thing is that he can do it in different ways. He can run or he can catch the ball."
Through the air, Bazar will be looking to connect with senior quarterback Alex Stanulis, Libertyville's back-up quarterback last season. Jones was impressed with the toughness of Stanulis last year in a junior varsity game against Lake Zurich. He broke his thumb early in the game and played the entire game anyway.
"He's also a very intelligent quarterback," Jones said. "He's able to read what's going on very well. Alex is also mobile and throws the ball well."
Another target for Stanulis will be Niko Christensen, the quarterback of the sophomore team last year who will be used in multiple roles this season, including wide receiver. Christensen brings some of that speed and athleticism that Jones is so excited about.
"He's going to be a featured player. There's a lot of different ways we want him to touch the ball," Jones said of Christensen. "He will do a little bit of everything for us."
Yet another wide receiver for Stanulis is Ryan Greenberg, one of four returning starters on offense. Bazar is one of the four, as are offensive linemen Charlie Schmidt and Sean Neal. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Schmidt is committed to playing at Northwestern next year.
Junior newcomer Jack Turco will also make an impact at wide receiver.
"He's got a big body and is a big target with good hands," Jones said of Turco. "We're not going to survive throwing the ball 30 times a game. That's not who we are. We've got to run the ball, too. But we do have a lot of good options (at wide receiver). We're going to have to make some explosive plays in the passing game."
Defensively, Libertyville returns five starters, including 6-foot-4 defensive end Brendan Cook, linebackers Jon Schlapper and Will Hare and defensive back Ben Arnold.
One special weapon for Libertyville this season will be senior kicker Matt Rudolphi. He can confidently hit field goals from 50 yards out and Jones is high on him being a difference-maker this season.
"I think Matt will be one of the better kickers in the area," Jones said. "He's been to a lot of national camps over the summer, he's put a lot of work in. He will definitely be a strength of our team."