With playoff streak over, Stevenson moves forward
Back in 1989, the price of gas was $1 per gallon.
George H.W. Bush was president of the United States, Madonna was all over the music charts, no one knew what the internet was, and the Chicago Bulls were about to become a dynasty team.
Ditto for the Stevenson football team that year. A dynasty team in Illinois high school state football was born in Lincolnshire.
In the fall of 1989, under head coach Bill Mitz, the Patriots earned a berth in the IHSA state playoffs. It would be the first of 30 straight playoff appearances for Stevenson, one of the longest such streaks in state history.
That streak came to a sudden halt last weekend when Stevenson was upset in a Week 9 North Suburban Conference battle with Lake Forest, 28-27. That left the Patriots at 4-5 on the season and eliminated from the playoff pool for the first time in three decades.
Players and coaches from Stevenson have spent the last week trying to wrap their heads around this shocking reality.
"It took me awhile to figure out the best way to help our kids deal with that, especially the seniors," Stevenson coach Brent Becker said. "The main thing I wanted our seniors to understand is that I didn't want them to let the end result of wins and losses and streaks to define their experience as a high school football player.
"It's been tough for them. I mean, it's always tough when any senior plays his last football game, no matter what the circumstances. But for us, it's never been about the streak. Yes, it's part of our history and tradition, but we want our kids to play each season for that season and for each other. We ended up getting some good reactions from the kids in our meeting and we were able to laugh and share some positive stories."
Tough breaks at QB: Injuries at key positions, particularly quarterback, threw plenty of adversity at Stevenson throughout its unusual 4-5 season.
Starting quarterback Justin Hiller went down with a separated shoulder in Week 3, so junior backup Liam Crawley took over under center ... until he broke his hand in Week 8.
In the season finale the next week against Lake Forest, Hiller was able to play, but he had just been cleared days before.
"That's tough when you lose quarterbacks like that," Stevenson coach Brent Becker said. "But I have to give a lot of credit to our seniors. They just came together. This is a group that has had three head coaches in their time here: me, Josh Hjorth and Bill McNamara. That's not easy either. But these guys, the seniors, just kept battling. It was a next-man-up mentality and everyone just kept working."
Another major injury: Not only did Stevenson have a tough time with injuries at quarterback this year, star running back JM Etienne also was hit.
Etienne went down in a Week 8 loss to Warren with a torn ACL.
"It was a noncontact injury in the fourth quarter," Becker said. "We've had some significant injuries this year and that's been really tough. But it's also a part of the game. We also had some linemen go down with injuries. But we just kept trying to move forward."
That's exactly what Etienne will try to do as he is still interested in playing college football. He was scheduled to visit Northern Illinois this weekend.
"I think JM will come back better and stronger than ever and some program is going to get a really great player," Becker said. "He's doing some pre-hab work right now, then he'll have surgery in late November. But he's already attacking his recovery."
The future: While Stevenson fans may still be bruised by last weekend's loss to Lake Forest, a 4-5 record and an absence from the playoffs after a 30-year run, those closest to the program have optimism.
"We are really excited about the future," Becker said. "Our freshman A and B teams went a combined 15-3 and our freshman A went 7-0 in the conference and won the conference title. Our sophomores went 8-1 and we had five of the sophomores up with us on varsity.
"We saw a lot of positive things this year out of our younger classes. We have some great young talent but we have to work to get back to where we want to be. The offseason has already started for us."