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Former football players and coaches recall favorite moments

Local football alumni recall their favorite football memories, on and off the field

Editor’s note: We spoke with numerous football alumni from area schools in recent weeks, asking them to relive their most powerful high school football-related memories. Below are many of the goosebump-including responses:

“That first home win of [2010]. That was our first home victory in [four] years. That was big just for the program and the school and for fans to see that we were turning the program around. We had just got a new head coach, Brian Casey, and that was a good start. It got a lot of people going, a lot of people fired up. It’s good to see that the program’s doing well now. Being that stepping stone for setting things the way they should be. They’ve gone to the playoffs the past two years, and it makes people proud to wear the blue and gold and to call themselves a Charger.”

– John Belovich, Aurora Central Catholic, Class of 2011, LB

“Beating Vernon Hills my junior year [in a Class 5A state quarterfinal]. Being able to come from behind there in the last minute of the game, and then the onside kick that we recovered. That was pretty spectacular, honestly. … That was like the first most-amazing game that I’ve ever been a part of as a team member. … The locker room was still like a shock afterwards. People were still in awe. But that wasn’t the only game that we wanted to win, obviously. We wanted to win the game after that. … You can celebrate, but you can’t celebrate too long because you know your goal isn’t accomplished quite yet.”

Quinn Buschbacher, Kaneland, Class of 2012, WR

“I’m going to say, I’m assuming my senior year, when we clinched the conference outright against Geneva. It was a four overtime game. We went into it with high hopes that we just were going to crush them like we do every year, and we ended up going into overtime 0-0 and Jake Pierce wound up blocking their field goal attempt at the end of the game. We all stormed up the field, tore up their field. I have some fond memories of our yellow jerseys completely covered in brown from completely tearing up their field … definitely that whole year will really stick with me, but that game for sure.”

– Alvin Cole, Batavia, Class of 2004, Batavia, OL

“I was one of the captains of the Marmion team in the [1998] season, and in the second round of the [4A] playoffs, we had to play Joliet Catholic and it was a night game at Joliet Memorial Stadium. The place was packed, and I think we were the only ones in the entire state that thought we had any kind of chance of beating that team even though we were undefeated and we were the No. 1 seed. … Great game, great atmosphere, huge crowd, and we ended up driving the field and scoring a touchdown with 51 seconds left to beat Joliet Catholic, 13-7, that night.”

– Collin Dolan, Marmion, Class of 1999, OG/DT

“Two things come to mind. The first one is [not about] playing football, but walking up from school before the game even started, and walking through all the kids in uniform. I always remember that as a cool thing, the community all coming out … from Vietnam vets giving you high fives to little kids who could barely walk in diapers giving you a high five … and then, you know [former St. Charles coach Buck Drach] was a big-time disciplinarian. It was almost playoff time and we had to run because he thought we stole 72 salt and pepper shakers from Olive Garden, which was our pregame meal [restaurant]. It was the most insane running we ever had to do, and we never actually stole them.”

– Clayton Figi, St. Charles, Class of 1999, OL

“I think the success that our team had [in 1998] we started the year 9-0, won the Upstate Eight Conference, and really won our first 11 games. We ended up being upset in the quarterfinals by Downers Grove North, but just the closeness of all the guys we played with. I got married a couple years ago and five of the guys I played with tended up standing up in my wedding. … I’m still probably very good friends with at least 20 of the guys I played on from the team that I graduated with.”

– Adam Freed, St. Charles, Class of 1999, WR 

“I think one of the awesomest things, one of the greatest memories I have, is just how much the coaches actually believe in the players. … My junior year I was starting on the kick return, it was the first game of the season, and me and Alex Berg laugh about it now, but they kicked the ball off and I dropped it, and then I was so scared I couldn’t pick it up. I kept fumbling it, fumbling, and then I ended up falling on it on like the 1-yard line. Right after that, [assistant coach Bill Kettering] comes right up to me and says ‘Don’t worry about it, you’re going to go back out there, you’re still going to be on kick return.’ The next week, I end up returning a kick 97 yards for a touchdown opening up a half. The coaches never give up on you, and it’s nice, because as a kid you have a lot going on.”

– Bai Kabba, Batavia, Class of 2009, RB

“What always comes to mind was my freshman year, they had brought me up for my last couple games. I was a [defensive back] at the time and the varsity level was short on numbers. ... So they moved me up for Westmont and Riverside-Brookfield the last two games of the season. Young kid; I think I was 14 or 15 at the time. I wasn’t sure how comfortable the guys were with me. … Night of the game, we get in line to run on the field and everything, and I just remember me standing in the back of the line as a freshman. Kind of, ‘Oh man, what am I doing here, do I really belong?’ And I just remember Shawn McKeown, a junior at the time and a really good athlete, calling me up to tell me to stand next to him. I thought that was really cool at the time … and it showed some leadership to help the young kid feel comfortable.”

– Ryan Gierke, Kaneland, Class of 2005, DB/RB/WR

“My senior year was the year we got to go to [the 7A state championship game against East St. Louis] and after winning the semifinal game [against Crystal Lake South] at home, the students charged on the field and came onto the field, and that was a pretty lasting memory from high school football that I’d probably have to say was my favorite.”

– Sean Grady, Geneva, Class of 2009, DB

“I remember before we got the lights … going out as a player and raising money and putting those things up so we could go out and play Friday night football. We used to play on Saturdays and we’d have a pretty good turnout a couple times a year. We weren’t very good. And then to get the lights and start playing on Friday nights and getting a homecoming win our senior year … our first homecoming win in 20 years, and seeing people storm the field and then beating Geneva for the first time in 20 years that same season at that last game and having people storm the field … for me it’s very special as a player and then a coach, just following that whole process.”

– Matt Holm, Batavia, Class of 1987, LB

“Definitely has to be my senior season in 2009, first time in school history of St. Charles North we made it past the first and second round in the playoffs. It was a tough loss against Glenbard West we had in the [Class 7A quarterfinals] but definitely awesome to leave a footprint on the town of St. Charles.”

Matt Mautone, St. Charles North, Class of 2010, OL

“The first thing that came to my head was having played Geneva, our rivals, two times in one season [in 2006]. That was kind of unheard of and we got to do it within four games. We played Geneva twice (including in a 6A state semifinal) and beat them overall, 52-6, so I’ll never forget that score. … I don’t know if calling out the rivalry is something nice to do after so long, but just a memorable experience of getting to play our hometown rival like that in such a short period of time for such meaningful games for both of us, it’s just something I’ll never forget.”

– Kevin McFarland, Batavia, Class of 2007, DL

“I’d probably say my favorite moment was my sophomore year, myself and two of my good friends brought up on varsity sitting there in the weight room getting ready for the game, and I was just sitting with them kind of reminiscing before our first varsity home game about all the times we had been to the stadium, walking to the stadium and getting ready for the music to start, and finally it was our time to actually get out there and play, so it was kind of a stark realization we were getting older but we also had an opportunity to play for our parents, play for ourselves play for our teammates. That was probably my best memory.”

– Mike Mullen, St. Charles East, Class of 2007, OL

“If I could think back to one memory, it would be 2004, when we beat Ashton-Franklin Center in the playoffs. The previous year, my junior year, we had lost to them, 22-0, in the second round of the playoffs at their field. And when the pairings came out the following year, we saw that if we won our first [playoff] game we would be heading back there. We were fortunate enough to win our first game. … Not too many times in life you are fortunate enough to have a second opportunity, and our team felt like we were blessed with a second opportunity. We went out there and played the best game I’ve ever been a part of – or I should say the best game in our career at Aurora Christian – and we won, 34-0.”

– Nate Peterson, Aurora Christian, Class of 2005, QB

“Oh, boy. Honestly, when I look back I think my favorite memories are definitely the big wins and definitely making the playoffs. But I think even moreso than that are the times off the field and during training camp and film study. … And then all the Bible study and relationships that made us stronger off the field.”

– Jordan Roberts, Aurora Christian, Class of 2009, QB

“Our [4A] playoff run my senior year, playing St. Viator and going up against Jarrett Payton, and I remember Walter Payton being there out at Marmion. One of the last games I know that Walter saw Jarrett play [before Walter Payton’s November 1999 death]. Our team was down about two touchdowns with three or four minutes left in the game, and we came back to beat them, [28-26].”

– Kyle Saltijeral, Marmion Class of 1999, QB 

“Of course, winning 28 straight games and two [3A] state titles [from 1997 to 1998]. It doesn’t get much better than that. Never losing a game your varsity high school career, that’s pretty special. … And then to see those guys in the community, to coach with some of them – [former Knights quarterback] Eric Delany, he’s one of my best friends – that makes it a neat thing, too.”

– Keith Snyder, Kaneland, Class of 1999, LG/DT

“One of the most infamous that we had was our game down in Morris [in 1985]. We ended up pulling out a victory toward the end of the game on a flea flicker play to clinch the game and take it for good. It was a touch-and-go game and we had no success against Morris in our careers. … Freshman [year] didn’t win, sophomore [year] didn’t win, junior [year] didn’t win. We couldn’t beat Morris. Morris was our nemesis. They were the bad boys of the [Little Seven] Conference and the ones that we looked forward to.”

– Derek Swanson, Geneva Class of 1986, RB

“Just the whole season I was able to be coached by my dad [Joe] and also play with my little brother [Boone] my senior year, that [2004] season. And also with some really great friends. If you want to pick out a specific moment, homecoming, we played Batavia High School. We were an underdog, for sure. We had, I think, 35 kids dressed and it seemed like they had 90. And we went out there and we won the homecoming game, and that was just fantastic. It was a great moment. Everybody played well, and we had a big upset.”

– Mike Thorgesen, Kaneland, Class of 2005, OG/NG

“It was my junior year, I think this has to be the highlight, when we won the one and only state championship that St. Francis has. My junior year in ‘08, [winning the state title], was kind of what we coined ‘The Year.’ That has to be the highlight, I mean the one and only state championship that has gone through [the football program]. Hopefully they do that again, that’d be awesome, but I think for me that has to be the highlight, and I think for a lot of my teammates as well.”

– Tony Vargyas, St. Francis, Class of 2010, RB/LB

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