Crete-Monee coach Jerry Verde is accustomed to winning, and he is working to make the Warriors into a winner also.
"I went to Marian Catholic and played for them when we won the state title. We're trying to build that culture of winning here. This is my third year here, so it's slowly but surely coming around.
"We were 6-4 last year, and that was after a year where we had gone 8-3. In 2007, we won our first playoff game in 10 years. Last year, we had a pretty difficult schedule. We went up to Crystal Lake South and lost 7-0. Then we hosted Rock Island and lost 7-6, and we lost in quadruple overtime to Thornton. Those were our first three games. We won the last six, but then we lost 30-6 to Joliet Catholic in the playoffs."
Verde has 16 starters returning and is especially excited about three of his upcoming seniors.
"We have three potential Division I guys. Greg Barksdale will be a three year starter for us defensively. He was also our punt returner last year. He's 6'-2" and anywhere from 210-220, depending on when you catch him. He's a very talented kid. He's got great hands and a nose for the football. He just makes plays.
"He's either gonna play safety or inside linebacker for us this year. Two years ago, he played strong safety for me. Then I moved him back to free safety. It might be a situation now where I can move him up because of his size to inside linebacker. Wherever I can put him where he can be most involved with the plays, that's where he's gonna go."
Greg is just beginning to hear from colleges, but he will become much better known if he can improve his academics.
"He's getting some attention from college coaches. There's no doubt about his talent. Now we have to make sure his grades are in order. He's working on it, and he's right there as far as qualifying. We're hoping to make that happen. We shouldn't have too much of a problem.
"Illinois is asking questions about him, Western Michigan is asking questions, Ball State has a little bit of interest. Those are just getting things going. He's had some mail from Arizona, and Northern Illinois has some interest in him too. Those are schools that are actively after him right now as his name gets out."
Verde has a couple more kids who have flown under the radar up to now.
"Matt Finnin is a solid 6'-6", 290 pounds right now. He's got great feet. He plays offensive tackle. You can't teach any of that. He moves well on the field.
"His body is just so big right now, it's a struggle in the weight room. Lifting is still awkward for him. But he's working hard, and you can't teach what he has. He was 6'-2" his sophomore year. My offensive line coach swears he's now 6'-7"."
It may be confusing to realize someone that large could have difficulty lifting weights. But the reason may be one of his best assets in the long run.
"I teach strength and conditioning besides my other courses. The longer the limbs in high school, the more difficulty the kid has with building that base for lifting. That's where we're at with him. On the positive side, we built the base. Now we're trying to work on the numbers. In high school, the guys with the short arms and short legs are the guys that are lifting the big weights. But in college, they're looking for the quick feet and long arms."
The third athlete Verde praises is Dylan McElveen.
"Dylan plays corner and wide receiver for us. He's 6'-2", 185. Besides being an unbelieveable athlete, he recently broke the Argo Indoor Invitational record for the 200 meters. He's amazing. He's sick fast. He played corner like an outside linebacker, where I might move him up to play because he lays the wood. He's pretty impressive."
With so much talent available, coach Verde is cautiously optimistic for the 2009 season.
"We're really excited to have those three kids back. We're dealing with some expectations now, and I think the kids are reacting pretty decently to it. We have the potential to be pretty decent."