Vernon Hills tuning up


Each football season comes with a set of tasks and assignments, each necessary in order to aim for a successful season.

Add a new one to the list for Vernon Hills High School this season: a practice playlist.

Now that Vernon Hills has its bright and shiny turf field, the Cougars can practice inside the stadium. This means they need music, which they can now blast from the press box while they go through their reps.

“We are working a lot harder in the stadium,” said senior quarterback Brett Peterson. “You have the music playing. We are a lot more motivated — you feel like more like (it’s) a game,”

In keeping with the musical theme, the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Peterson will be the deejay of the Cougars’ offense this year, spinning a triple option attack which was restored in 2011 after the more wide-open attack of the DeVarias Daniels/Evan Spencer-led team of 2010.

Peterson started one game for the Cougars last season; he was inserted for injured starter Steve Nelson in the team’s 26-6 loss to Grant in early October. With Peterson behind center, expect more second-line speed in the Cougars’ option offense.

“Steve was a warrior. He was gritty, and he’d be out there if he could,” said Vernon Hills coach Tony Monken. “Brett’s probably a little bit quicker that Steve was, and so it will probably make us a little more explosive from the quarterback position in the running game.”

The triple option is a system based on timing and deceit. With the synthetic turf field providing firmer ground underneath their cleats, the Cougars expect to be just a touch faster than their opponents in 2012.

“I know, for me, it will help to get faster off the ball as you can’t get stuck in the grass, which would trip you up,” said senior running back Sam Maloof. “Now, as soon as the ball is snapped, you can get off the ball.”

Added Peterson: “I feel fast. I feel I will be quicker. You always have good footing. There’s no bumps or mud you can slip in.”

Vernon Hills slipped up a bit last season, losing four games, including three by a combined five points. A perfect storm of poor opponent winning percentages and a logjam of four-loss teams kept them out of the postseason.

It’s a scenario the Cougars’ returnees are determined not to duplicate.

“We weren’t able to finish those out,” said senior offensive lineman Drake Randall. “If we had been able to, we would have been where we wanted to in the postseason. So we are working for that right now.”

Right along with their practice-songs mix. So just what tunes are on the playlist?

“Eric Church, Kenny Chesney,” Randall said. “Oh, and that, “Call Me Maybe.”

Moving the sticks: The 6-foot-3, 265-pound Randall will anchor an offensive line that also returns junior Chris Lannen and senior Nick Saliba.

Running behind them will be the 5-10, 185-pound Maloof, who was in the running back rotation last season; 5-10, 160-pound Dylan McNamara, and T.J. Flis, who also is expected to play linebacker.

Expect more running backs to shuffle in during the season. Peterson’s best target in the passing game is expected to be senior speedster Gabe Cotton, who qualified for State in track last spring.

Making the stops: Vernon Hills lost stellar starters Jarrett Wood, Jeremy Brazil and Wayne Didier to graduation. One replacement will be lineman Matt Kahn, who missed last season with an injury. David Pierce is expected to start at linebacker, with Jordan Freibrun and Cotton manning the secondary.

The defense will be inexperienced, but it’s another area in which practicing inside a stadium with music could help.

“A lot of schools have started having music in the background during practice time for tempo,” Monken said. “By being in the stadium, it allows us to do that.”

Special forces: Soccer player Jeremy Cohen returns to handle the kicking duties. Expect Maloof to be the Cougars’ punter.

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