At this time last year, the Vernon Hills football team was in the early stages of transitioning from a triple-option offense to the spread formation.
“We saw a lot of athletes coming into our program that we wanted to utilize,” Cougars coach Bill Bellecomo said. “That was what prompted the change.”
Naturally, there were some growing pains, particularly with the number of young players at skill positions. Connor McNamara, who will be a junior this season, was the starting quarterback for most of the 2013 season, and he learned a new system in the unforgiving North Suburban Conference.
Vernon Hills was hit hard by injuries and finished with a 3-6 record. This summer, the indications are that the lessons learned have sunk in, and a more experienced team is ready to try to reverse that record.
“In year two of putting in the offense, the kids are much more comfortable,” Bellecomo said. “The rhythm and tempo of practice is [great].”
“It’s a lot easier now having a year under our belt,” McNamara said. “There’s less of a learning curve. Our camp is at a faster pace and we’ve made a lot of progress.”
The Cougars have competed in one 7-on-7 tournament, and McNamara said it was great to survey the field and have so many receiving options. Among the returning wide receivers and running backs are Kiwanne Durant, Andrew Salazar and Kyle Thomas.
“It gets you excited to see everyone running around out there,” McNamara said.
Bellecomo said it was easy to see that McNamara is much improved.
“I’m really pleased with the way he’s taken control of the team,” Bellecomo said. “You can just tell by the way he takes control of the huddle. He’s stronger and he’s got a better rhythm with his receivers.”
Senior Richard Clark, a running back/wide receiver, ran track for the first time in the spring and enjoyed a smashing debut. He qualified for the Class 2A state meet in the 100- and 200-meter dash as well as the 4×100-meter relay. Clark, a strong safety on defense, also is likely to return punts and kickoffs this season.
“It’s amazing how fast he looks out there on the field; it’s [incredible] what a year of track has done,” Bellecomo said.
Clark said the players are trying to maximize conditioning this summer to avoid lapses in the fourth quarter, a problem that plagued the Cougars last year.
“We learned from that,” Clark said. “If we keep working hard like this, we have the potential to do real good things.”