Libertyville's Bazar more than making the grade
So what's the best way to turn a 'B' into an 'A?'
Hard work is certainly a must.
Ditto for determination.
To be better than just good, to be among the best of the best, you must push yourself harder than you've pushed yourself before. And if the road gets tough, you dig in. Giving up on the ultimate goal isn't an option for high achievers.
Sounds like we're talking about grades, right?
But turns out, what is good advice for the classroom, also works on the football field, where one Lake County football player literally used to be a 'B.'
And now, he's a solid 'A.' Acutally, he's a full-blown 'A-lister.'
Libertyville senior running back Brendan Bazar, who rolled up 221 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on 23 carries in the Wildcats' 27-14 season-opening win over Highland Park last week, started out his high school football career on the freshman B-team. He did not make the cut for the freshman A-team.
He was not happy about this.
"I was mad that I didn't make the A-team," Bazar said. "All my life, like in youth football, I had been on the top teams and I thought I had a good summer leading up to the season. And when they divided the freshmen into A and B teams, I was pretty upset.
"But that just really fueled me to work as hard as I could to become who I knew I could be."
And just two years later, that was one of the best running backs in Lake County.
As a junior last season, Bazar was a secondary running back for Libertyville until starter Jason Tse broke his hand in the third game.
Bazar, shifty but powerful, took over the lead spot and went crazy with it, putting up eye-popping numbers week after week after week.
In essentially seven games, Bazar wound up with more than 900 rushing yards, 385 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. He was also named all-conference, all-area and Libertyville's most valuable player.
In one game against Stevenson, Bazar was essentially Libertyville's entire offense. His number was called for 41 of Libertyville's 55 total plays.
"To go from a B-team guy your freshman year to MVP of the varsity and all-conference as a junior, that's pretty impressive," Libertyville coach Mike Jones said. "I don't know how often that happens. Not often, actually. It's quite a transformation."
So how did Bazar do it? How did he turn himself from a 'B' into an 'A?'
Hard work and determination, of course.
Bazar was determined to show that he belonged with the better players. And he wasn't going to be deterred from that.
A lot of B-team players get frustrated early in their careers, and they end up quitting football long before they even have a chance to make varsity. Bazar dug in deeper and refused to get discouraged by his B-team status.
He also logged the work in the weight room. Lots of it.
"I think one of the biggest reasons I was put on the B-team as a freshman is that I was small. I was probably about 5-foot-6, 135 pounds," said Bazar, who is about 5-foot-10, 185 pounds now. "There wasn't much to me when I was a freshman. I knew I needed to get a lot stronger and a lot bigger."
So Bazar spent hours and hours, far more time than the minimum mandated by the coaches, working on his body. He says a lot of bench and front squats helped him add some significant size and strength.
Bazar now benches 265 pounds and squats 340 pounds.
"I really got a passion for lifting, and I just gave my all to every single rep, like I had a chip on my shoulder, because I kind of did about not making the A-team. Every rep was at 110 percent," Bazar said. "Most of our lifting is at 6 a.m., and it's really not fun waking up at 5:30 to get there that early. But I even started liking that. I just liked lifting and seeing the gains, looking at my mucles. I saw all my hard work paying dividends. It made me feel pretty good."
To his surprise, Bazar also wound up feeling pretty good about being on the Freshman B-team.
The team went a perfect 9-0 and won the conference championship that year. And Bazar was the lead running back. He scored 30 touchdowns that season.
"It ended up being a blessing in disguise that I played on the B-team that year," Bazar said. "We had such a great season. It was so much fun. And I got to run the ball a lot. If I had made the A-team, I probably would have been a safety or cornerback because they already had other running backs."
Now, he's "the" running back for Libertyville, the 'A-lister.'
"I love it. I embrace it," said Bazar, who got his usual heavy dose of work last week even with a broken pinkie finger on his left hand. "Whatever I can do to help the team, I'll do it."
Being an inspiration to his teammates might be happening by default, without him even trying. Bazar's story of rising is a pretty good one. Even he has started to recognize that now.
"If you have a passion and you keep going and you keep working, eventually things are going to go your way. Eventually good things will happen," said Bazar, who is getting interest from some smaller Division I schools, such as Dayton and Drake. "A lot of kids on the B-team might say, 'Maybe football isn't for me.' But being on the B- team as a freshman doesn't mean anything. I always saw myself being a starting running back on the varsity and I just kept working at it.
"I'm pretty proud that the hard work paid off."
• Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw