GURNEE — For coach Dan Starkey and senior defensive back Mark Lato, the New Trier football team’s struggles in the secondary began long before the team bus arrived at Warren’s field.
The inconsistency that allowed New Trier to force five third downs in the first half yet surrender first downs on four of them in Friday’s 42-6 loss started on the practice field, according to Lato.
“We need to practice harder. We need to make our practices 100 percent all of the time,” Lato said. “We got to practice 100 percent every single day. We’ve had off days. That’s what happens: 42-6.”
Lato said that the unit’s struggles have been evident in practice.
“Our coaches see it,” Lato said. “Everyone sees it. We need more leaders to step up.”
On Friday, the general public saw New Trier (0-2) struggle against a sharp quarterback in senior Andrew Nickell and a group of talented, physical wideouts highlighted by senior Javon Charleston, who finished the first half with seven receptions for 89 yards.
“He’s got the whole package and tonight we were able to get the ball to him and he showed a little bit of what he can do,” Warren coach Dave Mohapp said.
According to Lato, Charleston and Co. provided a tough test.
“Their receivers are big and physical,” Lato said. “It was definitely a challenge. There were a couple of plays I got beat, a couple of plays where I didn’t. It was a good challenge.”
Warren’s receivers got to an inexperienced New Trier secondary in a variety of ways. There were plenty of missed open-field tackles as Charleston twice caught the ball in the flat and made a hard cut around a Trevians defender for extra yardage.
“They got some yards after the catch,” Starkey said. “We missed some tackles out in the flat on some of their short passes and then we just didn’t play the ball well on some of their longer passes.”
Nickell’s opening touchdown pass to junior Caleb Reams and his ensuing touchdown toss to Charleston exposed Starkey’s latter point. On both balls, New Trier appeared to have fine coverage on the Warren wideout, but on the former, Reams suddenly broke for the corner unimpeded and his defender lost him, and on the latter, Charleston was able to get outside position for an easy snare.
“We just weren’t in good position, and then at times we were in position and we didn’t play the ball,” Starkey said. “They were running hip to hip with a guy and they didn’t turn to play the football. It’s technique.”
Nickell finished the night having completed 15-of-20 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns.
There were plenty of big plays by the New Trier defense, including some quick tackles on short passes and an interception by Danny Hines that kept the Trevians in the game heading into the second quarter — but they were offset by the number of big plays they gave up.
Part of these struggles are due to New Trier’s inexperience. According to Lato, junior defensive back Charlie Schoder is one of few returning players for New Trier. The Trevians feature nine new starters on defense.
But New Trier doesn’t have the luxury of time. The Trevians could use a win and fast. They play tonight at Niles North.
“I wouldn’t say there was necessarily an improvement (from Week 1 to Week 2),” Lato said, “but there has to be an improvement in Week 3.”