Mentally and physically, Barrington excited for its next challenge
When the Barrington football team lost three straight games in the middle of the season, the Broncos could have panicked and started doubting themselves.
After all, this is a program that hadn't lost three games in a season since 2012, going 55-10 since then.
But instead of panicking and doubting, the Broncos picked themselves up by the bootstraps and haven't lost since, winning their last four games as they head into Saturday's 1 p.m. Class 8A second round playoff game at Barrington Community Stadium against 9-1 and fourth-seeded Homewood-Flossmoor.
"During that period of time our captains really stepped up, especially Mark Di Iorio," said junior quarterback Tommy Fitzpatrick. "We had team meetings after practice and we started this thing where everyone wrote down on a note card something we were going to do extra to improve our skill in some way and that's when we started to click and pick up our pace again to come together and get the outcome we wanted."
Senior offensive lineman Sam Butera credits the coaching staff for the team's turnaround.
"We started to be more aggressive and I think the coaches did a good job emphasizing everyone doing their job and not letting the guy in front of you beat you every single play. It's OK to lose some of your battles but make up for it, get really aggressive and focus on beating the guy in front of you. Do your job."
The outcome the Broncos wanted, and expected, has come to pass in a big way the past four weeks but Barrington's football success goes much deeper than just the past four weeks or this season. And it's about more than football -- it's also about life.
Russ Rausch is not technically a member of the Barrington football coaching staff but he may mean more to the team than just about anyone.
Rausch has developed an app called Vision Pursue. The crux of it is, he dives into the mental side of the game and the mental side of life. And he's as revered by the Barrington players and coaches as much as anyone.
"It gets us in the right mindset and thinking positively," said Fitzpatrick, who has thrown for over 1,000 yards and rushed for over 400 this season. "It's helped me and I know it's helped a lot of guys on the team, too."
"We're really lucky to have him around," says 17th-year Barrington coach Joe Sanchez, the dean of Mid-Suburban League football coaches, of Rausch. "We call him our mental skills coach. He spends a lot of time talking to the boys about mindset and whatever challenges might be there and how to attack them mentally and physically.
"It's mental skills training, being in the moment and creating a championship mindset for the boys and coaches as well. Control the controllable. The boys picked the slogan this year 'Win the Day' and we have that on our shirts, along with control the controllable. The whole idea is to not get caught up in the things that are out of our control but to focus on what we do control on a daily basis. We talk about effort, attitude and energy. The only way we're going to influence what happens on Saturday is by what we do today. We're not playing the game today so we can't worry about Saturday. We have to worry about today.
"The boys have bought into it. We're trying to give them skills and tools that are important to not just be successful on the football field but more importantly to be successful off the field years from now."
But had Barrington not turned its season around after Week 6, the only thing the Broncos would be worrying about today is next year.
"Against Conant (a 21-12 loss in Week 5), I know we lost, but then I could see we were improving and we had the togetherness back that we had before and I knew from there it was going to get better," Fitzpatrick said.
Following a Week 6 loss to Fremd, things finally started to click again when Barrington downed then-unbeaten Hoffman Estates in Week 7.
"That was a huge shot of confidence for our guys," said Sanchez.
Let's also not forget the schedule Barrington has played. The Broncos faced seven playoff teams this season -- including Maine South, Warren and Evanston in nonconference action -- and a Schaumburg team in Week 8 that was still in playoff contention.
"When you look at the quality of schedule we played, the margin of error was small," Sanchez said. "But we feel our schedule has hardened us and prepared us for this moment.
"This game will humble you really fast. If you cheat the process life will humble you. Maybe (after a 3-0 start) we weren't pushing as hard as we could have and maybe that's why we came up short against three really good teams who were really hungry to play us. Sometimes when you lose games like that you never bounce back but to the credit of our team, our seniors, our captains and our coaches we were able to start the process of righting the ship against a very good Hoffman Estates team."
Sanchez, who is in his 23rd year overall at Barrington, likes to credit his personal success, in part, to his longtime colleague and friend, Barrington softball coach Perry Peterson, one of the winningest coaches in any sport in IHSA history with over 800 wins in 26 years as the Fillies' head coach. Early in Sanchez' career at Barrington he coached softball on Peterson's staff.
"I've been very fortunate to be at one school this whole time and I've been around what I think is one of the most successful coaches in the state of Illinois in Perry Peterson," said Sanchez, who is 129-54 as Barrington's head football coach. "He's one of my closest friends and someone I look up to tremendously. Even though I haven't coached softball with him for a few years we talk all the time. He does our book for away games and I love leaning on him and calling him for ideas and vice versa."
Now comes the task of taking on a Homewood-Flossmoor team whose only loss was to undefeated and top-ranked Lincoln-Way East.
"They're an excellent team and an excellent program," Sanchez said. "We have a lot of respect for them but we also feel very confident in who we are. We're going to have to play well. We know that you can't play a bad game and expect to move on. We're excited for the opportunity. Anytime you get into playing in November it's the best time of the year and anything can happen. That's why our guys are excited. It's going to be a great game on Saturday and it's going to be a lot of fun."
To guys like Butera, H-F is just another team, another challenge on the playoff road.
"It doesn't matter who we play," Butera said. "We're going to play our game, we're going to play for each other and we're going to play for the guys standing to the left of us and to the right of us."
Fast fact: Barrington has played football since 1924. And if the Broncos win on Saturday, according to IHSA records, it will be the program's 500th football win.