Scouting the Grant Bulldogs
The brand of Grant football that Chris Robinson remembers playing was all about "pride, hustle and desire."
It served as a program mantra.
Since the Bulldogs earned seven state playoff berths in eight years (2005-2012), they've searched for a return to the days when they were a tough game for opponents every week.
Robinson (Class of 2006) enters his third season as head coach after four years as an assistant and, yes, there is optimism, despite six-straight seasons of 3 or fewer wins.
"Everybody's on the same page this year," Robinson said. "The big thing we're preaching is committing to the team, giving your best, and leaving the ego in the locker room."
"I feel a lot better (about the team) at this time than I did last year," said John Bolton, the Bulldogs' 5-foot-7, 165-pound, playmaking junior running back/defensive back. "I think we got a lot more guys that actually care about what we got going on. They're buying in. I think it's really going to turn around now."
Bolton, senior running back Noah Lautner, senior defensive end Luke Bedrosian and senior linebacker Ben Kiesgen all made the all-Northern Lake County Conference team last year. The Bulldogs also return senior quarterback Tyler Elfering. Lautner, Bedrosian, Kiesgen, Elfering, senior linebacker Jimmy Taylor, senior defensive lineman Ben Trobik and senior linebacker Dylan Hernandez were all up as sophomores.
The other seniors include defensive back Ethan Geist, linebacker Kyle Rainey and lineman Logan Jared.
"The growth that we've seen out of these seniors, especially this summer, has been amazing," Robinson said.
Junior Brett Riggs also started in the defensive secondary last year. But Robinson knows talent goes only so far. He and his staff have stressed hustling through drills and being a consummate teammate.
"This summer, they brought it almost every single day," Robinson said. "The days that they didn't, we figured out we brought our egos with us. We're working to clean that up."
"We all have faith in Coach and what his philosophies are," Bedrosian said. "The entire team has bought in."
Bolton scored 8 touchdowns last year and even took snaps at quarterback. Lautner is a two-time all-conference player.
"Deceptive," Robinson said of 5-9, 150-pound Lautner's running-back skills. "He's shifty. He's speedy. One of the things he said he missed this summer (while focusing on lacrosse) was being able to hit people. That kid loves to hit."
Grant went 2-7 in Robinson's first season and 3-6 last year. The first four games on the Bulldogs' schedule appear favorable, as they host Woodstock (opener) and Round Lake (Week 3) and visit Stagg (Week 2) and Grayslake Central (Week 4). Neither of those four teams won more than two games last season.
"But that goes back to the ego," Robinson said. "If we walk out on the field and say, 'Yeah, we got this team,' that's our ego talking. We've got the experience now. We've got strength. We've got speed. We've had the talent. These first four games are going to be huge. If we keep the ego away, we've got a chance to be successful."
Bedrosian understands the importance of the season's first month.
"We need to come out hard and have a strong start," the 6-2, 200-pound veteran said. "We think if we come out and take care of business the first few games, it'll just carry on to the rest of the season."