Many football players take to the weight room when they want to make gains in the off-season.
Evan Lewandowski went to the film room.
Lake Zurich's senior quarterback wanted to be a better student of the game.
"Quarterback is such a mental game," Lewandowski said. "If you can get the mental part of the game down, that's key."
Lewandowski says he wasn't always in the best mental frame of mind as a junior. He would get extremely anxious and nervous before games.
He wondered if feeling more prepared would help with that.
So the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Lewandowski made a huge commitment to the film room during his senior season. He would be in there studying and studying opponents and their defenses, at least a half-hour each day, and at least an hour on the days before games.
"I would watch film last year, just not as in depth," Lewandowski said. "This year, I really got into it. I would really get into the specific coverages. I would focus in on one player at a time and watch that player for like 50 straight plays to make sure I understood his tendencies.
"I think watching all that film really slowed the game down for me. It really helped."
Indeed, perhaps it was all that film-watching that turned Lewandowski into a real-life star in a season that played out like a made-for-Hollywood movie for the Bears.
Just one year ago, the Lake Zurich football team was plagued by a hazing scandal that made national headlines. But after a coaching change and a commitment to a higher level of conduct and personal accountability, the Bears turned the corner and wound up putting together an undefeated regular season that yielded a trip to the Class 7A state championship game last week.
Lewandowski played a huge role in the dream season, breaking school records for passing marks left and right. His personal success within the team's success earned him Class 7A all-state honors as well as player of the year honors for the Daily Herald's Lake County all-area football team.
"It's really all a credit to the team this year," Lewandowski said. "I wouldn't have been able to do any of it without them. The way our offensive line blocked was so big. They really opened up holes for (lead running back) Joey (Stutzman) and because we ran the ball so well, that really opened up the passing game.
"And then I had great receivers, guys like Payton Powell and Matthijs Enters and Joey, too. We had a lot of guys who could catch the ball."
Then again, Lewandowski, with his strong arm and accuracy, often made his throws easy to catch. He completed 185 passes this season for 2,786 yards and 29 touchdowns, all school records. His 320 passing yards against Lake Forest this season is also a school single-game record.
"Last year, I would get so nervous and anxious, and this year, I just tried to enjoy the games more and that calmed me down," Lewandowski said. "I think I played with more confidence because of that."
Lewandowski, who has been playing quarterback since his early days with the Lake Zurich Flames at age 7, also finishes as the program's all-time leader in completions (271), yards (4,223) and passing touchdowns (42).
It's no surprise to his new coach.
"I knew when I first got (to Lake Zurich) that we would be able to really attack through the air with Evan," said first-year Lake Zurich coach Luke Mertens, who was hired to get the program back on track after last year's scandal. "I saw a kid that had moxie and arm strength and who was a really good decision maker."
Lewandowski also developed into a team leader.
He and the other captains, Joey Stutzman, Riley Pemstein, and Jack Sanborn, committed to setting a better example for their teammates.
The four would stay late after every practice, cleaning up the locker room. They also made an effort to make sure they and their teammates were especially respectful around school.
"We just really bought into what Mertens preached to us when he first came here about how the wins and losses don't matter as much as what kind of young men we are and how we act in our community.
"Our mindset changed. Coach told us that if we can do the little things right, it can lead to big things. And it did for us. It's crazy to see how we started the season and where we finished."
Lewandowski, who is now thinking about college and already has two offers (Minnesota State and Sioux Falls), won't soon forgot that finish, and the ride downstate.
"I enjoyed every moment of the trip, even the drive there (to Northern Illinois)," Lewandowski said. "That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get to the state championship game. We had a police escort, we got to ride a coach bus. It was all pretty cool.
"Being there with all of my teammates was such a great experience. And losing that game doesn't take anything away from our season (13-1). It doesn't define our team. We've grown so much this year. We had a great year."
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw