There is such a thing as ‘The Grant Way,’ and, in football, it’s one of the right ways
By Bryan BonaTo For Sun-Times Media July 29, 2013 7:32PM
Jeremy Bredwood scored six touchdowns in the team’s final three games last fall and big things are expected of this junior running bacik. | SUN-TIMES MEDIA FILE PHOTO
Last Year: 8-3 (5-1 NSC Prairie); lost to Crystal Lake Central 30-13 in second round of 6A state playoffs.
Grant has made the playoffs 7 of the last 8 years and 6 of 7 under head coach Kurt Rous, a stretch that includes two 8-win seasons and a 10-1 mark in 2007.
Senior Jonathan Wells has dropped football (family decision) and will concentrate on his track career. He was the 3A state champion in the high jump this spring, clearing 6-11 at the state meet. As a running back, Wells led Grant with 770 yards and 10 touchdowns in 6 games last year before a shoulder injury ended his season.
Now-graduated quarterback Kyle Whitman, who played fullback his junior year, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Week 7, and a handful of other injuries to starters meant that some current Bulldogs saw key action down the stretch.
Junior wingback Jeremy Bredwood saw the end zone six times in Grant’s final three games last year after getting called up to the varsity squad and will be an important piece of the offense this fall. He possesses good football instincts to go with his speed and should have some big games this year.
Senior quarterback Jake Bychowski was Whitman’s backup to start last season while also starting at linebacker, but injuries cost him games as well. He’ll be guiding Grant’s option attack. Billy Sullivan, who also plays linebacker, will get carries from the fullback spot behind him.
The Bulldogs have also said goodbye to three three-year starters on the offensive line in Jared Lalanda, Luis Echeverria, and Dan Haeffele and several other key skill players including running back Alex Cacchione and Keion Miller, who was a contributor in all three phases of the game as a receiver, defensive back, and returner.
The Bulldogs had several young contributors on the defensive side of the ball last year, including now-juniors Jake Lostrocio (LB) and Collin Stefanowski (DL), and overall it’s an area where they could make up some ground on last year’s squad.
SCHEDULE — Crystal Lake Central. @ Lake Forest. @ Libertyville (THUR). @ Vernon Hills. North Chicago. @ Lakes. Round Lake. Antioch. @ Wauconda
Updated: August 31, 2013 6:08AM
The last time Grant High School’s football team was in this exact same situation was the one time in Kurt Rous’s seven years as head coach that the team missed the playoffs.
So, there’s the goal for this current group of Bulldogs ... to rewrite history.
That history book says that in the 2009 season, Grant overscheduled its two season-opening non-conference games and lost them both — to an 8-1 CL South team and to a 7-2 Plainfield South team. In the end, that mountain proved too high to climb and Grant missed the playoffs by one win as it lost three other games by a total of 14 points.
Fast-forward to 2013, and here we go again. Grant will open with games against Fox Valley Fox favorite CL Central and North Suburban Lake powerhouse Lake Forest. Those two schools each won nine games last year and are not taking any steps back in 2013.
So, either Grant is up to speed right out of the blocks, or it takes cares of business in the North Suburban Conference Prairie Division, where only Lakes appears to be a better team.
Either way, Grant does have some things working in its favor, even though a ton of good players from last year’s squad are gone.
■ Grant’s hallmark has been its incredible toughness on both sides of the ball and the ability to execute its option offense. Regardless of the amount of experience and talent it puts on the field, that rarely seems to change, and it will always win the Bulldogs some games (see 15 straight seasons with at least 4 wins).
■ Grant athletes in general have built a reputation for not backing down when the odds seem to be against them.
That certainly was true last year when a string of injuries resulted in as many key players watching games from the sidelines in street clothes as there were on the field.
And yet, the winning continued — a 7-2 regular season and 1-1 playoff record.
The experience gained last fall should serve the team well in 2013.
“We had a pretty rough year last year with the injuries, but guys stepped up. We know it has to be the same thing again this year,” said ”Jake Bychowski, who moved from linebacker to QB last year when the starter went down. ““We’ve been doing the same stuff, running the same plays, since freshmen year. We know them from different positions, so we have running backs who can play quarterback and quarterbacks who can play running back.
“When guys get hurt or guys graduate, it really helps to have somebody who can step right into those roles.”
Billy Sullivan, a key two-way performer (fullback/linebcker) concurred.
“We definitely have some guys who have stepped up,” he said, adding that the new players on the O-line are working extremely hard and extremely well. “We lost some guys on the line, but the guys we have are working hard, and they’re going to do some good things for us,” he added.
One of the trademarks of Rous’s program is players who start out at one position and then transition to another.
“The kids get bigger throughout their career weightlifting and move into different spots,” the coach said. “Our fullback started out, I think, as a receiver. He’s gotten thicker, stronger, faster, and can do things in that position now that he wouldn’t have done as well in the past.
“We make our guys know all the spots. he wings should know both sides. The fullback should know both wings. Even our quarterback knows what everybody else is doing. We spend a lot of time at camp rotating guys around so they can learn the different positions.
“It’s the same thing on the offensive line. Guys learn the tackle and guard spots on both sides. During the course of the season ,injuries happen and guys have to move around. We saw that play out last year.”
Last year, Grant led the county in injuries, so there are a lot of players back with serious varsity experience.
“That experience helps. It also helps that these kids know that if you’re the third-string running back during summer camp, that doesn’t mean you’re going to spend the season standing on the sideline,” Rous said. “With injuries, especially last year, they got to see how you can be third string in July and see first-string snaps in September.”
An example of that will be replacing star running back Jonathan Wells, who got injured last year and is not playing this season. His future as a college athlete is in track.
“Obviously,we’d be better off if we could put him on the field, but we have guys who will step in and take up that role,” said the coach> “You could say we’re a program that runs a system. He was there, he was good, but we have other guys that can run the same plays. The results might not look exactly the same, but it’s not going to stop us from doing the things we do.”
What Grant does best is play hard-nosed on defense while grinding it out on offense. That won’t change this fall.
“We’ll be competitive. I can’t say ‘We’re going to win this many games,’, but I’m not worried about these kids going out there and competing,” Rous said. “Our non-cons are nothing to laugh at, and then we have our (North Suburban Conference) crossover (vs. Libertyville) in Week 3. So right off the bat it’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Which, given the makeup of the Grant players, is just the way they like it.