Being challenged a good thing for Rolling Meadows
Just like last year, the Rolling Meadows football team is off to a 5-0 start.
But unlike last year, Rolling Meadows isn't always "rolling" over its opponents with a heavy hand.
And head coach Matt Mishler is good with that.
He doesn't mind a little adversity.
"I like that," Mishler said. "I like it when you're in a tough situation because you find out if your kids have it in them to deal with it."
Last year, on their way to a 10-1 record, there wasn't much adversity for the Mustangs until their Week 8 battle with MSL East rival Hersey, which they won in a nailbiter, 38-35.
Otherwise last season the Mustangs, who play at Elk Grove (1-4) Friday, were routinely subbing out most, if not all, of their starters by halftime or early in the third quarter in every regular season game. Overall last season, the Mustangs' average margin of victory was 27.1 points per game.
This season, Rolling Meadows has been pushed at times.
"And that was a question mark going into the season," Mishler said. "We didn't want the guys thinking that things would be as easy as they sometimes appeared to be last year. How would they handle it if things were different this year?"
Against Deerfield, the Mustangs were down multiple times, including late in the game before they pulled out a 31-24 win in double overtime.
Against Buffalo Grove last week, Rolling Meadows was down twice in the first half before going on to win 49-17.
Mishler says that when times are tough, or when a challenge is presented, his team has found stability in its defense this season.
"It really starts with our defense," Mishler said. "Those guys have been really aggressive. One thing that we've been doing really well is forcing turnovers."
Over its first two games, the Rolling Meadows defense didn't force a single turnover. Over the last three games, the Mustangs have forced 15 turnovers. That's an average of 5 turnovers per game over that stretch.
"Knowing there's always a chance we can get the ball back and maybe on a short field is a big deal for us, especially in those tight games," Mishler said.
Zippy Zieba: Part of the reason the Rolling Meadows defense, which is allowing an MSL East-best 12.4 points per game, has been so tough this season is the impressive play of safety David Zieba.
He has 4 interceptions on the season, including 3 in the Deerfield game alone. He also batted down a potential touchdown pass in the end zone in double overtime to preserve that double-overtime win over Deerfield.
Zieba is in just his first season of getting major minutes in the varsity defensive backfield.
"I was telling people prior to the season that I thought David was going to be special this season, and he has been," Rolling Meadows coach Matt Mishler said. "The first couple of games, I think he was a little tentative and timid, but then he realized that he just needed to relax and play his game and trust his instincts and ever since he's done that, he's been really, really good. He's been a sideline to sideline kid for us. He covers a lot of ground."
At 6-foot-4 and a track kid, Zieba has the size and speed to be zippy in a large coverage area.
"He's really good in track and he's got a lot of speed, especially for his size," Mishler said. "He's been doing a great job for us lately.
"Our defensive backfield is making a lot of plays and that starts with our guys up front. We are getting a lot of pressure on the opposing quarterbacks and that is forcing fumbles and interceptions."
Coach Antonetti: It was a quick ascension for Buffalo Grove quarterback Mark Antonetti.
Prior to the season, he was fighting for the starting quarterback job.
Now, he's tallied nearly 800 passing yards and 6 passing touchdowns and he's also practically a member of the coaching staff.
"We weren't even sure Mark would be our No. 1 and now he's like a another coach on the field," Buffalo Grove coach Jeff Vlk said. "He's done a great job of taking the reins. He's so consistent, he's so reliable, he knows the offense, he knows how to get his teammates the ball, he can handle so many situations and he never points figures at anyone else. He takes responsibility for the offense. His overall maturity, I just love."
Vlk also loves Antonetti's maturity off the field, too.
"If you saw Mark around school, you would never know he's the starting quarterback of the football team," Vlk said. "He's just an extremely humble person."
South of the border: It's been a lot to take in.
Not only are the Luyando brothers at a new school this year, they're in a new country.
Ian and Andre Luyando transferred to Buffalo Grove High School over the summer from Mexico. They both play for the football team and are finding their way in the program, playing in some underlevel games but showing varsity potential.
Ian is a 6-foot-1 junior defensive back and quarterback while Andre is a 6-foot-5 sophomore wide receiver.
"These kids are still trying to figure out where to get their hair cut, finding their way around school, but they are doing a good job getting acclimated with everything and they both are loving playing football," Buffalo Grove coach Jeff Vlk said. "All of their friends in Mexico played soccer, but they were drawn to football for some reason so they had played before they got here."
Ian is working his way back from a knee injury that he suffered before the move, and Andre is learning how to use his long frame to his advantage.
"They are having a lot of fun," Vlk said. "I think they really love the sport and love being part of the team."