The Libertyville football team’s 2012 season came to an emotional end with a 38-10 loss to Glenbard West in the Class 7A playoffs Saturday.
But amid the disappointment following the team’s second-round exit is a feeling of optimism. The Wildcats appear to be on their way up after several down years. Although Libertyville faces several questions at key positions heading into the offseason, the team remains positive that this season was a stepping stone back to prominence.
In Libertyville’s first year under coach Mike Jones, who was named Randy Kuceyeski’s successor when Kuceyeski — an 18-year veteran — stepped down after last season, the Wildcats finished 8-3 and recorded their first playoff victory since 2006 (a 48-28 win over Harlem on Oct. 26).
It was an impressive rebound for a program that hadn’t posted a winning season in the past five years while going a combined 21-26, including 5-5 in 2011.
“(Saturday’s loss) doesn’t take away from what we accomplished this season,” senior quarterback Jack Deichl said. “We helped re-establish a tradition and brought the program back to the level it should be.”
Libertyville won a state title in 2004, but the Wildcats reached the playoffs only twice in the past five years, losing those playoff games by a score of 64-14.
Jones helped turn things around by implementing a new offensive scheme, a move that was made easier by Libertyville’s experienced roster. Now, the coach faces another challenge — replacing 35 seniors, including difference-makers like two-year starter Deichl, receivers Justin Guarnaccio and Austin Williams and running back Brian Swift.
Although production of the departed players will be difficult to replace, Jones said he is confident in his younger players and that he believes the team’s late-season success will be a motivator. The Wildcats had won four straight games before falling to undefeated Glenbard West, and stayed close until late in the third quarter.
“We’ve had fun the last few weeks as things started coming together for us,” Jones said. “These kids have set the bar for years to come. The younger guys have a lot to do (next season) to match what this group did.”
Among the players who likely to need to step up next season are junior quarterback Anthony Monken — Deichl’s backup this year — and junior running back Conor Simpson, who completed his second year as a starter.
Deichl said he is confident that he is leaving the team in good hands.
“I think we’ve set a standard,” Deichl said. “They can see what it takes to get to the next level and win a playoff game and hopefully it can inspire the next group.” ~.