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Prep Zone: ACC closing in on 1st playoff berth since ’97

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012 11:48 p.m. CST

Members of the student body actually are wearing Aurora Central Catholic football jerseys this week, to Chargers coach Brian Casey’s delight.

Better yet, they still might be wearing them in late October.

ACC is closing in on playoff-eligibility and a winning season, neither of which has been done since 1997. The Chargers (4-1) can accomplish both if they handle Walther Lutheran in Friday’s homecoming game in Aurora.

“It could quite possibly be in front of the largest crowd these kids have ever seen at this place,” Casey said.

Walther Lutheran is the first of three straight opponents on ACC’s slate that are currently 1-4, putting the Chargers in superb shape to break the area’s longest postseason drought.

For those in need of a refresher, ACC’s program was in a dreary tailspin when Casey took over for longtime Chargers coach Mike Curry in 2010. The three wins Casey’s Chargers mustered in 2010 were the most ACC notched in a season in eight years, and the Chargers bumped their wins to four last season.

But it was a disappointing 4-5 considering ACC faded late in the season with the chance to bust into the playoffs. The Chargers are determined to avoid a similar letdown this time around, and a strong performance in last week’s 25-7 Suburban Christian Conference crossover win at St. Edward bodes well.

Whether ACC needs five or six wins to make the playoff field – and, for that matter, whether the Chargers would be in Class 3A or 4A – remains to be seen. The Chargers are relatively injury-free, playing well and seem to be on the verge of a special end to the season.

“These kids aren’t stupid,” Casey said. “They look at the newspapers, read the Internet, they know what the possibilities are, so for us to be able to perform the way we were able to in the environment that we did last week was exciting.”

While the power running game-oriented Chargers have their share of talent – including prolific running back Steven Amoni – Casey said a more productive mindset is responsible for the program’s upswing.

“I just think attitude is a big piece to it,” Casey said. “I think the kids we have now have put in the time and have the attitude they can compete with anybody and everybody. When I was an assistant, I think there were some times the kids would get a little too hard on themselves, and working with kids this age, that doesn’t work. Now the kids have seen some rewards for all of their efforts and are starting to believe in their abilities.”

ACC coaches put together a leadership council that commanded plenty of programwide buy-in when it comes to being mentally and physically prepared on a daily basis.

“I told them I don’t need captains. I need leaders,” Casey said. “This group is more accountable to one another.”

As well as the season is going, the Chargers have yet to beat a team with a winning record; their lone opponent, Immaculate Conception, handled ACC, 33-0, in Week 3. The Chargers won’t play another above-.500 team until they see Montini in the final week of the regular season, at which point the Chargers hope their playoff berth is sealed.

ACC in the playoffs – what a sight that would be.

The believers are growing, whether they’re sporting their Chargers jerseys around the hallways or saving them for Friday nights.

• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or jschwab@shawmedia.com.

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