A move made out of necessity last year not only paid dividends in helping Naperville Central win the Class 8A state title, but it’s also sparking the Redhawks’ continued defensive excellence this year.
Last fall, defensive lineman Cole Wooldridge’s season ended in Week 2 after a knee injury. To fill the void, Naperville Central moved linebacker Joe Schweikart to defensive end.
The Redhawks shut out three straight teams, then lost three in a row, before finishing with six straight wins and a trophy in DeKalb.
“It was really unfortunate with what happened with Cole because he was a very good player, but we were able to make it still work,” Schweikart said. “I started the first two games at linebacker and then the coaches moved me to defensive end and Dan Delgrosso replaced me at linebacker. He probably did a better job than I did in filling in.”
Now, behind Schweikart’s efforts, the Redhawks (4-1) will take a four-game winning streak into Friday’s game against Naperville North at North Central.
“He really took off last year after Cole got hurt and we kept him in the two-point stance,” Naperville Central defensive coordinator Mike Ulreich said of Schweikart. “He got bigger and stronger in the offseason and is more versatile this year. At times he plays in the three-point stance and still does his two-point stance and rushes the passer.”
Making the adjustment from linebacker to lineman was pretty much a seamless one for the 6-3, 210-pound senior.
“I learned right away that you don’t have to worry about pass coverage working off blocks,” he said. “Basically you’re just going when the ball is snapped. I felt that as the weeks of the season went on that I molded better into the position and was able to do my job better. Then I had all off-season to get ready.”
Naperville Central has only allowed 41 points and an average of 159 yards. They’ve been equally impressive in forcing turnovers. Last week, Schweikart had 1 1/2 sacks and helped pressure Glenbard North into throwing four interceptions, three that went for pick-6s.
“Our defensive line did a great job last week and we aim to get three or more turnovers every game,” he said. “Our odds to win the game are pretty high if we do that. We’re just going to keep trying to put as much pressure on them and we know our linebackers and DBs are going to be there to make plays.”
While his actions speak loudly, he’s also gained a great understanding of defensive strategies — barking out instructions to his teammates on the field as well.
“I’ve been impressed with how he and Bobby (McMillen) are making calls and how they understand why we want to make them,” Ulreich said. “He may only be in his second year on the line but he’s got a great understanding of why we do the things we do.”
Schweikart leads the Redhawks with three sacks as well as nine tackles for loss. He’s also forced a fumble and has two pass breakups.
“We’re just continuing to play hard and trying to have fun,” he said. “It kind of hit me earlier this week that this is the last time we get to play (Naperville North). You don’t realize how fast the season goes. I’m having fun in practice and in hanging around with the guys. I’m just grateful to be a part of the team.”