Scouting the Vernon Hills Cougars
You can't win a football game until you win the rep.
Again and again.
Vernon Hills football coach Bill Bellecomo chose the motto "Win the Rep" for his 2019 Cougars, who were 3-6 (1-4 in the Central Suburban League North) a year ago.
"It's about reps in the weight room, reps in practice, and doing all you can to conquer those each time," Bellecomo explained. "It's also about forgetting about a bad play in a game, immediately, and focusing on the next play.
"Win that next rep," he added. "Win that next play."
Vernon Hills lost Bellecomo's presence on the sideline for more than half of the season last fall. A staph infection had attacked his heart, necessitating surgery to replace a valve.
VH assistant coach Jason Czarnecki -- the school's varsity baseball coach -- assumed Bellecomo's duties and notched a save in his first relief appearance on a gridiron.
"I feel great," Bellecomo said after a recent practice. "I have more energy. I never thought that would happen, being cut open at my age  and staying in a hospital for 11 days."
VH's new signal caller on Friday nights is Libertyville transfer Thomas Monken, a 6-foot, 170-pound senior with a Trevor Lawrence-esque mane. His father, Tony Monken, was Vernon Hills' first varsity football coach and guided Cougars teams to nine playoff berths from 2000-12.
The QB's dad joined Bellecomo's staff this year.
Another coach's son set to suit up for VH is sophomore slot receiver/defensive back Jake Pieper, a 5-6, 135-pounder and a tri-captain with senior defensive lineman Bradley Gothelf (6-1, 215) and junior running back/wide receiver/linebacker Ryan Mann (5-10, 185). Jake's father, Bob Pieper, was Glenbrook North's football coach for 19 seasons.
"Having those two, Thomas and Jake, around is an advantage for us because they've been around the game for so long and they understand the game so well," Bellecomo said. "Thomas is a coach on the field, with decision-making his best trait. He's excited about our receivers and running backs and the big roles they'll play for us.
"Jake," the coach added, "gives us speed, knowledge. His football IQ is super high for a guy his age, and his teammates have a tremendous amount of respect for him."
Gothelf, a third-year starter, earned all-CSL North honorable mention honors last fall. Two of his mates along the defensive line are junior Vito Accettura (6-0, 190) and sophomore David Mun (6-0, 190).
"Our D-linemen are intense, with high motors -- the highest motors I've ever been around on a football field," Gothelf said.
The Cougars might boast the tallest corps of wideouts anywhere. Senior Jack Barszcz stands 6-5. So does sophomore Erik Rimas. Other threats to win matchups versus defensive backs are 6-4 junior Justin Morris and 6-2 sophomore Luke Lutgens.
"We do run a 'Tower Package'," Bellecomo said.
Senior wideout Giovanni Zullo, at 5-10, battles with an average frame, but his ability to run routes that frustrate and deflate DBs is way north of so-so. And speedy sophomore Kamrin Martin (6-0, 150) finished with 300 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns in '18.
"Weapons," a smiling Thomas Monken said. "We have them. We have a lot of them."
Grayslake Central, Vernon Hills' visiting foe on Opening Night (Aug. 30, 7:30 p.m.), has a former VHHS three-sport standout on its staff. None other than Jason Newburger returns to his alma mater as the Rams' first-year offensive coordinator.
"He'll be fired up," said Bellecomo, whose club defeated host GC 38-21 in the teams' Week 1 clash last year. "So will we. I like the number of matchup problems our opponents will have because of our height and speed at key positions."