Hard work, extra lifting has propelled Wauconda into the playoffs
You've heard of the pregame meal.
At Wauconda, there is also now a pregame lift.
"We stole an idea from the University of Wisconsin," Wauconda football coach Dave Mills said. "On Fridays, on game days, we also get in a lift in before we play. We lift, we have meetings, we'll have our pregame meal.
"But we like the lift because it's a mindset. It gets you in the mindset to work. If you're working in the weight room, then you're going to be ready to go out and work and compete on the field."
Mills might want to stick with this routine.
The hardworking, weight room-loving Bulldogs fought their way into the IHSA Class 6A playoffs with a 5-4 record. Wauconda won three of its last four games to become playoff eligible.
Seeded No. 16 in Class 6A, the Bulldogs will play at No. 1 Cary-Grove (9-0) at 6:30 p.m. on Friday in the opening round of the playoffs.
"We're just kind of a blue-collar team," Mills said. "We work hard and if you are competitive, you find out how hard you can push yourself and I think our guys have pushed themselves and each other pretty hard this year."
Balancing act: For much of the season, running back Martin Walker Jr. has been a workhorse for Warren, regularly getting 30-plus carries a game.
The elusive senior has rolled up the yardage, and the touchdowns for the Blue Devils. And considering how stingy the Warren defense has been, Walker Jr. has often been essentially all the offense that has been needed to win games.
But now that the playoffs are starting, Warren coach Bryan McNulty is looking to take some of the pressure off Walker Jr.
The 8-1 Blue Devils will be hosting Neuqua Valley (6-3) at 7 p.m. on Friday and will look to sophomore quarterback Phil Hird to fuel the passing game.
"We're going to be facing some really good teams and defenses will be keying on Martin, so we're going to have to be balanced," McNulty said. "And we're going to be facing good teams that will be difficult to stop. We can't put (unreasonable) expectations on our defense to get a shutout every time. We are going to have to score on offense and we're going to have to be able to do that in different ways."
9-0 vs. 9-0: Last year, Antioch was 9-0 to end the regular season and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Marian Central Catholic, 31-9.
A year later, the Sequoits' regular season record is the same, but the feel is much different.
Antioch will host 5-4 Reavis on Saturday at 1 p.m. in opening round action of the Class 6A playoffs. The Sequoits are again 9-0 and earned the No. 2 seed.
"There is a different vibe in going 9-0 this year versus going 9-0 last year," Antioch coach Brian Glashagel said. "Last year, we played two playoff teams. This year, we've played five playoff teams and we went out and scheduled a Lake Forest team that went out and beat Lake Zurich and Stevenson this year."
Glashagel said that it is important to him to do everything he can to elevate his team's strength in nonconference play since the Northern Lake County Conference can be relatively weak some years.
"We kind of feel like we get the 'You're good ... but, you're in the NLCC,' a little bit," Glashagel said. "We are making an effort to change up our schedule and do some things differently and we are hoping that helps us in the playoffs."
That last time Antioch made some significant noise in the playoffs was in 2008 when it made a run to the state semifinals.
Glashagel is already feeling a bit of déjà vu.
"It really does feel a little 08-ish around here. There's definitely that vibe around school," Glashagel said. "You can just tell that everyone is excited about this team. People keep telling me that this team can do really great things and a lot of people are excited about us."
Lots of catches: While Lakes running back D'Lo Hardy has been grabbing all kinds of headlines by setting record for rushing yards and touchdowns in a game, the passing game has been quietly improving in the background.
Last week in the Eagles' regular season finale against Round Lake, a 49-6 victory, quarterback Chris Selig and wide receiver Dylan Keilwitz weren't so quite.
In fact, they unleashed a potent aerial attack that yielded a school-record 240 receiving yards for Keilwitz.
Lakes coach Jordan Eder is hoping to keep up the balance in the offense as the playoffs begin this week. The Eagles are hosting Belvidere North at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
"When a team prepares for us, they are going to know all about D'Lo," Eder said of Hardy. "But with guys like Chris and Dylan complementing him, that really makes us a lot tougher. You have to be able to do multiple things in the playoffs."