GENEVA – Geneva football coach Rob Wicinski joked with a visitor Monday about the lax security at Good Templar Park.
Yup, the gates were open as the Vikings ventured off campus to begin fall practice, seemingly inviting anyone to wander around the premises.
Clad in familiar black, skull-and-crossbones pinnies, the defense harbors no such plans to be as civil this season.
After allowing 301 points in 2013 – 15 more than in 2012 – something’s gotta give other than a certain 11 players clad in royal blue and white.
“It’s the level of intensity that they want to go and however they take it, but our defense has got to improve if we’re going to make any type of run in this conference,” Wicinski said. “So it’s been a big emphasis.”
Geneva returned to the playoffs last fall behind a quick-strike, pass-first offense led by quarterback Daniel Santacaterina and receiver Pace Temple, good friends who are back for their senior seasons.
The Vikings scored no fewer than 20 points in 10 games, including 23 in a Class 7A, first-round playoff loss to St. Patrick. Trouble was, Geneva allowed an average of 30.1 points a game, even with a 55-6 drubbing of 1-8 Streamwood in Upstate Eight Conference River Division play factored in.
With several starters returning this season, the Vikings knew the beginnings of a cultural shift had to be in store. Turns out one key to keeping your opponents close is keeping your teammates closer.
Summer camps and 7-on-7s received more of a businesslike treatment as players committed to staying in shape while remaining well-versed in coordinator Frank Martin’s schemes.
“We really came together. We’ve got a pretty tight team together. We’re all in close together,” senior defensive end Matt Loberg said. “I don’t know, I think we’re a lot more focused and we’re looking good [in camp], and we’ve got to continue to do that until 18 more days, our first game.”
The Aug. 29 season opener at West Aurora looms with considerable optimism. The Blackhawks, coming off a 1-8 finish, could be in for a challenging night in the Upstate Eight Conference crossover, especially with Temple primed to make plays on both sides of the ball.
After coaches installed him as an emergency defensive back last season, he worked to get a better grasp of defensive principles during the summer.
“Last year they just kind of were like, ‘Listen, be an athlete,’ ” Temple said. “I play basketball, I just kind of chase around, play defense. They’re just like, ‘Do that.’ We were playing man-to-man. Just stay in front of him, don’t let him catch the ball. It’s easy enough.
“But now I feel like I understand more of the concepts, you know. Where to be at certain places. And, hopefully, I can help them make some more plays on defense. Get that back to what Geneva’s defense once was.”
Temple reminisced about watching Santacaterina’s older brother, Michael, as a grade-schooler in 2008, saying the then-junior running back/defensive back and his teammates were “what made me want to be a Viking.”
Geneva advanced to the Class 7A state title game that season, and had allowed only 166 points in 13 games before East St. Louis won the championship, 33-14.
“It’s crazy to think that we’re them now,” Loberg said. “We’re out there.”
Out there and accountable. But far from welcoming, they hope.
There’s a reason those familiar pinnies look menacing.
• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.