Naperville North's Robert credits teammates for his special season
Naperville North running back Ethan Robert has turned into one of the DuPage Valley Conference's top offensive threats this fall.
But to hear him tell it, it's less about his capabilities and more about other people.
"Really, it comes down to the people in front of me, and the coaches calling the right plays against the defense," he said.
"I do what I'm told. There's nothing special about it."
That's where he's probably wrong. He still has to earn yardage after he breaks the line of scrimmage, like he did in a 287-yard performance in a 38-27 victory over rival Naperville Central earlier this month. In that game, he rushed for an 80-yard touchdown, one of two on the evening.
In a 28-19 victory over Waubonsie Valley last Friday, he rushed for 155 yards on 21 carries and one touchdown.
"From an athletic side of it, you never quite hit Ethan squarely, and if you don't get him early, he has tremendous balance and he always seems to end up falling forward," Naperville North coach Sean Drendel said. "Probably the biggest thing is, he wears on you."
Robert gives a lot of credit to his offensive line, which consists of seniors Jack Wachtel and Connor Hare, juniors Jackson Kerstin and Troy Salela, and sophomore Drew Jennings for putting him in a position to succeed.
Robert has come a long way since last spring, when he was injured for most of the season and came back to play in the Huskies' last game. Over the summer he said he and his teammates were "pretty much working all the time," especially on conditioning.
It's paid off. Naperville North (5-3, 4-1) will play for the DVC championship Friday at Neuqua Valley.
The IHSA football playoffs are almost here, so it's time to party. For some teams, that's a literal statement.
The playoff pairings show will commence at 8 p.m. Saturday on IHSA TV and locally on WCIU The U. Watching the program together as a team will be York (7-1, 4-1), which hasn't been to the playoffs in years.
The team and coaches will convene in the school auditorium prior to the broadcast and there will be food catered in.
"We told the captains that there is a show, and they're like, 'There is a show?'" said coach Mike Fitzgerald with a laugh. "This is going to be a special moment for them."
Junior quarterback Matt Vezza, who's had a breakout season, said the party "is going to be great."
Other teams, like Glenbard East (6-2), have made a playoff-pairing viewing party an annual event. It's extra special this year, considering last spring, there were no playoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coach John Walters said coaches and players have dinner from 7-8 p.m., then proceed to the school's east gym for the viewing, where playoff T-shirts are handed out. From there, the waiting game begins.
Senior inside linebacker Matt Schager was there as a sophomore. What's it like at the moment of truth?
"Everybody gets kind of quiet, and there is a huge cheer after that," he said. "We celebrate, the whole team goes crazy. Just being able to make it that far is a real accomplishment."
Wheaton Academy has only won one playoff game in its history, back in 2009. This year, coach Jim Johanik and players like sophomore wide receiver and defensive back Liam White are hoping to secure the school's first home playoff game. The Warriors will convene for its viewing party in the school's Warrior Room, and will munch on deep-dish pizzas.
"It's cool to come together and celebrate," White said, "but we know have a job to do and we have to get it done."
Not every school hosts a party, however. Glenbard South's coaches convene at defensive coordinator Ted Monken's house, while players get together at each other's homes to watch the pairings show. Glenbard South (7-1) senior running back Trevor Burnett said, "I believe I'm going to watch it with my family and a couple of my teammates at my house."
After the party, when does game prep start? ASAP, according to Walters, thanks to the internet and sites like Hudl.
"About 30 seconds after that posting comes up, we'll try to contact that team and get a film trade initiated," he said. "We start watching film right away that night. We'll be in front of the computer at 9 p.m. or whenever the trade is complete."
Wheaton North (7-1, 5-1) coach Joel Wardynski, whose team has also missed the playoffs the past few years, said once his staff has film, they'll review it on Sunday morning and then meet with the players that afternoon.
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.
"We haven't been thinking about that a lot," Falcons' senior quarterback Mark Forcucci said. "Our focus has been on this week's preparation and taking care of business against St. Charles East."
Brighter future for WeGo:
There are three big reasons 2022 should be brighter for West Chicago, which is 1-7 this season: Juniors Alexis Correa, an offensive lineman; running back Joey Ferruzza; and defensive back Jaden Bates.
"Jaden leads the team in tackles, Alexis has kept the O-line group squared away, and we lost Joey for like half the season and when he returned, our running game picked up immediately," said coach Tyler Belding. "We're pretty optimistic we're going to keep getting better each year."
West Chicago is in the always-tough Upstate Eight, with the likes of South Elgin, Glenbard South and Glenbard East, but with the emergence of Bates, Ferruzza and Correa, and the leadership legacy left by seniors like defensive tackle Pedro Vazquez, the world will turn.
"These guys want to play football and they want to be good," Ferruzza said. "We've got a good foundation to show us the way."