WHEATON – It’s only June, but high school football programs will take on-field action any way they can get it.
On Thursday, Batavia and St. Charles North participated in the Red Grange Classic, a 7-on-7 event hosted by Wheaton Warrenville South. There were no pads, no linemen, no tackling and no running plays, but after months of waiting to play some competition, this was plenty for the Bulldogs and North Stars.
“It’s a nice event for our kids,” Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. “We have a lot of fun together competing, and then the social time I really like for the guys in between games. ... What’s nice about this event is our guys get to know each other really well on this day.
“When we’ve got camp and lifting and stuff, we’re working, then we go home. So today, you get to spend a lot of time with your teammates, have some fun, prepare yourself a little bit, encourage your teammates.”
Piron mentioned that it was what wasn’t seen on the fields Thursday that would define the Bulldogs come the fall: a strong running game, a strong defense and quality line play.
“Offensively, what’s tough about today, you’re not really seeing what I think is one of the better parts of our offense, which is our unbelievable running game and our offensive line – big, strong kids – and all the work they’ve put in,” Piron said. “On the defensive side of the ball, we should be very fast, very athletic, really be able to get after quarterbacks, which again you won’t see today.”
The Batavia coach also couldn’t keep himself from displaying excitement over more things that went unseen a year ago for a Bulldogs team that finished 9-0 in the regular season but was bounced by Downers Grove North in the first round of the 7A playoffs.
Three key players missed most of their junior years with various injuries. But this year, as seniors, they’re ready to go, and they figure to be big-time contributors in 2013.
Kevin Green – who listed himself as a fullback, linebacker and defensive end – broke his arm last summer and re-broke it in his only game played last season. Linebacker Donovan Kilker fractured a vertebrae and played just the season opener. And safety Brandon Dean tore his ACL and partially tore his meniscus, leading to surgery in November.
“All the offseason work that we had to do, especially coming off the injuries, we’ve got to put in 110 percent, not just 100,” Dean said. “All the other guys are healthy, and we’ve got to come back from something that was pretty devastating for all three of us.”
“I think it’s going to add a new level of intensity to the way we play,” Green said. “We’re three guys that like to go out and knock people’s heads off, so I think we’re going to add a new layer of intensity to the game.”
The Bulldogs have already adopted an early motto of “All in,” and even though this was just a 7-on-7 tournament at the end of June, you can see the dedication and the itching to get back under the lights on Fridays.
A small army of players made up the Batavia contingent at the event Thursday, with dozens of chairs set up and parents handing out food in between games. It seemed no matter where you walked on the tournament grounds, you saw someone sporting Bulldogs crimson and gold.
“Going out in the first round after going 9-0 leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and we’re all ready to get that state championship,” Dean said. “We’ve been talking about it since eighth grade, and we’re finally here as seniors. It’s just a weird feeling how it flew by so fast, and now it’s time. It’s our time to actually do it.”
North, a team for which everything is brand new in 2013, joined Batavia at the event. Rob Pomazak is starting his first year as the North Stars’ coach after spending 10 years at Elk Grove Village and relieving Mark Gould, who retired as the lone coach in program history.
“It’s great,” Pomazak said of the feeling of running his own program. “It’s everything I wanted it to be. It’s the opportunity to teach kids, which I really love doing. It’s an opportunity to mold young men into better athletes and better people, most importantly. And really, my goal is to introduce them to things that they haven’t done before, this [tournament] being one of them. And I know we’ll be better tomorrow just because of this experience here.”
Pomazak’s players are already excited to be under his tutelage, and they’re looking to bring some power back to a program that has lacked it in recent seasons.
“St. Charles North, we haven’t been going to [the] playoffs the last few years, so we want to be the team to do that with these new coaches coming in,” senior running back/linebacker Evan Kurtz said. “This is the year.”
“We want to build a new tradition for North High School, for the younger guys to live up to and keep on the tradition of North football,” senior linebacker Reece Conroyd said.
“Four years ago, in 2009, we were playing in the state [quarterfinal] against [Glenbard West]. We were a powerhouse team, and we’ve kind of dropped off. So we want to be the team that brings us back to that promised land and start a whole new tradition for our school.”
Week 1 of the season is still two months away, but observers could plainly see the fun, excitement, anticipation and intensity brought even to an event like this.
“We’re trying to get Friday night as much as we can right now,” Pomazak said, “and this is as close as we can get, so this is a good experience for us.”