Scouting the Stevenson Patriots
Look up to Ean Norenberg, who stands 6-feet-5 and is Ivy League bound, and the Stevenson senior will tell you it's wise to look back.
He and his football teammates may have clinched the 30th-consecutive state playoff berth in program history last year, but the Patriots also lost their last three games.
"I feel like it's the same with all history, whether it be US history, world history or Stevenson football history," Norenberg said. "We got to look back at it. We can't forget it, but we got to be able to reflect on it and build off it. We can't make the same mistakes."
Seven weeks into last season, Stevenson was 6-1 and 4-1 in the North Suburban Conference. A 42-0 shutout of Waukegan assured the Patriots' remarkable postseason streak, which started in 1989, would continue.
But then they lost to eventual NSC-champ Warren 21-0, got stunned on their home field by Lake Forest 26-23 and fell to Marist 28-6 in the opening round of the Class 8A playoffs.
Less than a month later, popular coach Josh Hjorth (4 young kids at home) resigned unexpectedly after just two seasons. Mike Morrissey was hired away from Moline, then stepped down less than three weeks later for personal reasons.
Stevenson moved quickly and named Brent Becker its new head coach. Becker, a former head coach at Lake Forest College, has been on Stevenson's staff since 2012.
Stevenson, which had only three head football coaches -- Tom Bauman, Bill Mitz and Bill McNamara -- since the Lincolnshire school opened in 1965 to 2016, now had three in less than five months.
Awkward for the new guy?
"Yes and no," Becker said. "It was a situation that was uncontrolled. I wish the best for Coach Morrissey. That's most important. He had some things back home he needed to take care of, and those things happen."
Leave it to the cerebral Norenberg to provide perspective and settle any potential skepticism.
"Change is change," said the 245-pound offensive tackle, who committed to Harvard this summer and has produced test scores of 1520 (SAT) and 34 (ACT). "It took a little time to transition, but once we finally got it, the transition couldn't have been smoother."
"We haven't skipped a beat," senior running back JM Etienne said. "Since I've been up on varsity sophomore year, everybody has loved Coach Becker. He's a guy who has a team-first, family-first mentality. We all can rally around that pretty easily."
Etienne gives the Patriots a game-breaker. He busted out in his second varsity season last fall, rushing for 1,000 yards and 7 touchdowns (10 TDs total). Etienne (5-10, 185), who does not have any scholarship offers, earned all-conference and all-area honors.
"Whoever ends up with JM is going to get a steal," Becker said. "He is such a fantastic player and fantastic kid."
"He's ridiculous," Norenberg said of his teammate. "He's got (skills) I've never seen in people before. He's got crazy balance, vision like no other. He's got crazy field speed out there."
Becker will call the plays for an offense that graduated quarterback Cole Okmin (1,388 passing yards, 12 TDs). Either senior Justin Hiller or junior Liam Crawley is expected to start at QB when the Patriots visit Lincoln-Way East (12-1 last year) on Opening Night, Aug. 30. Norenberg and senior Nick Machado return on the offensive line.
Brian Burja will again coordinate the defense, which graduated all-state linebacker Maema Njongmeta (Wisconsin). Also back are defensive back Jordan Vincent (Eastern Illinois commit), defensive back Shane Johnson, linebacker Jahleel Perrin and linemen Miles Williams and Kha'nari Williams.
"The team is looking fast," Etienne said.
Schematically, the Patriots, even with a new head coach, figure to look the same on both sides of the ball.
"I think every coach wants to put his fingerprints on things, but I don't have any drastic changes because I have been here," Becker said. "I feel good about what we're doing.
"There's no mantra or 'repaint the locker room,' " he added, smiling. "We're not changing things like that."
For now, the Patriots have had enough change.