That didn’t take long.
After three weeks, Grayslake Central (3-0) already has surpassed its win total from a season ago and is the area school off to the most surprising start this fall.
It also means that the Rams are matching crosstown rival/sister school Grayslake North win for win, making the Grayslake community a combined 6-0 on the field in 2013.
A Grayslake school has now been in the playoffs three years in a row (Central in 2010 and 2011, and North last year). This is a town whose schools had a total of three playoff appearances through 2009.
What, if anything, is behind the emergence of football in Grayslake?
“A lot of very good athletes have come through both schools, but I think there’s something to be said about the way the community responds to success on the football field,” Central coach Ben Ault said.
“I know for us as a school district, there’s a rivalry between Central and North. But when I first came here, I coached with a lot of guys who are now on staff over there,’’ Ault said. ‘‘When they’re successful, you feel good about it. There’s that one week a year that you don’t want them to have success, and that’s when you play them.
“I think outside of that rivalry, you want them to have success because it makes football that much more important and exciting in town.”
Winning, of course, breeds excitement, and it’s doubly so when the success is somewhat unexpected.
But the group that’s not surprised to be 3-0 is the group wearing Rams jerseys on Friday nights.
“I think it all starts with the commitment the kids made in the offseason,” Ault said. “They saw guys getting in there, pushing themselves in the weight room. I think that made them come into the summer feeling like we were heading in the right direction.
“Then, we had a really good summer in terms of the execution in camp. Confidence in the offense because we’ve been running it for a year has helped as well. Once those things start rolling together, I think the kids just had a different feeling about this season.”
And playing defense like the Chicago Bears — generating turnovers in bunches — certainly doesn’t hurt.
Ryan Aoki, a 6-2, 215-pound senior middle linebacker, is the leader of a defense that has forced 14 turnovers in three games.
“Everybody is doing their job,” Aoki said. “The D-line is working hard, the linebackers are moving in space, and the DBs are flying around making plays. It’s looking really good. The big focus this season for our defense is pursuit, and that’s the biggest reason we think we can continue doing what we’ve been doing.
“We don’t quit, whether it’s a play or a game or the season. We have a goal in mind of making the playoffs, and we’re not going to let up.”
That defensive energy has also worked its way over to the offense, where senior QB Alex Lennartz is making up for lost time. Last year, he went into the season as the starter, but broke down (knee injury) and missed most of the year.
“This is our second year in the system. We have a lot of experience back,” Lennartz said. “Our offensive line is picking everything up. Our backs know who they should be blocking. The reads are coming that much easier for me too, but having a line that gives me time has been a big part of that.
“We’ve definitely been able to open things up. I think last year because of the injuries and moving guys around, we were more one-dimensional.’’ Lennartz said. ‘‘This year, teams have to respect our pass, and it’s prevented teams from putting nine men in the box. When we can be a threat throwing the ball, especially down the middle of the field, there’s so much more room for those four- or five-yard runs that keep the offense moving.”
Lennartz also was quick to note that the defense’s 14 turnovers have been huge in the 3-0 start.
“When you have a defense that can get you the ball back 14 times in three games, it’s just a momentum changer,” Lennartz said. “The last game Kacey (Adams) had two big picks that really stopped Johnsburg cold and gave us the momentum back on our side. It really helps take a lot of pressure off the offense.”
Also taking the pressure off Lennartz is running back Malcolm Reed, who had 172 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown against Johnsburg after sitting the first two weeks of the season (coach’s decision).
“When you start out 3-0, you can’t help but feel things are moving in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go,” Ault said. “There are a lot of areas we can improve on, especially with our consistency offensively. We scored 21 points in a quarter on Thursday, but we only scored one touchdown in the first two quarters.
“Defensively, we just want to keep up with what we’re doing: continue to play hard and get stops. We had some hiccups on special teams, especially with a late onside kick. There are always things to work on.”