Scouting the Libertyville Wildcats
The quarterback got hurt. The team got punched in the chinstrap with loss after loss.
By season's end last fall, Libertyville, a Lake County football heavyweight and a one-time champ, was beat up.
The Wildcats finished 2-7, their worst record since posting the identical record in 1974.
"We didn't possess the ball enough last year, plain and simple," said coach Mike Jones, whose team was just three years removed from playing in the Class 7A state championship game. Jones was an assistant when Libertyville won state in 2004. "We were in a ton of games, but we just didn't do what we needed to do to finish them.
"When you look at it, we were tied with Lake Zurich in the fourth quarter (14-7 loss). We were tied with Lake Forest in the fourth quarter (16-9 loss). We miss a kick Week 1 (28-27 loss to Highland Park). Hit the goal post. We would have won the game. We could have easily been 5-4."
In Week 2 against Waubonsie Valley, on Libertyville's first series, quarterback Blake Ellingson suffered a broken right leg. Libertyville lost 15-6 and was shut out the next two weeks by Stevenson and Warren, respectively.
"It's definitely put a chip on our shoulder," defensive end/tight end Aidan Holmes said of last season. "We've been working really hard in the off-season. We have the school workouts and stuff, but we've been getting out there on our own too. We're all really mad because we went 2-7. We're underdogs now. People are like, 'The Libertyville program is no good.' That really bothers us because we know we're better than that."
A healthy Ellingson, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior, could make the Wildcats better. His broken leg sidelined him six months. He played varsity basketball the second half of the season.
"I've never experienced (an injury) anything like that, so it was really difficult," said Ellingson, who can throw the ball and also run it. "I know I could have made a huge impact on this team. Watching the season go downhill, it just brought me more fire to this season."
"He's a competitor," Jones said of his QB. "He's serious about football, so that's what you love in a quarterback."
Jones will be the first to tell you that losing Ellingson was far from the only reason for the Wildcats' demise.
"Offensive line has been our priority," the coach said. "It's still a work in progress, but the talent pool there is a little better than what it was. We got some young guys. They just got to come together."
Hunter Quigley started every game on the O-line last year. A veteran receiver group includes Sean Wittenbrink, Brian Stacy, Dylan Drumke and Sam Paden. Running back Shaun Luce got playing-time last season.
"You got to be able to run the football," Jones said.
"Blake will definitely bring that leadership and fire to the team that we were missing last year," Holmes said of his QB. "He's just a fiery competitor, and I respect the heck out of him. He's going to do great things."
Holmes (6-3, 225) returns to a defense that played creditably last season. Other veterans back include linebackers Chase Quigley and Josh Stair and defensive backs Will Murphy and Cole Fiorenza. Jones said switching from a 4-2-5 to 3-4 scheme last season worked well.
Last season's lack of success is something that sticks with this year's squad.
"We talked about it all during the off-season," Ellingson said. "We have this group chat. It was just, 'This can't happen (again). These are things we have to do to change.' "