Despite ending its season with a 27-point loss in the first round of the Class 8A playoffs, the Niles West football team felt encouraged on its bus ride back to Skokie.
The Wolves could be proud of outscoring Palatine 28-20 in the game’s final 17 minutes, of becoming the first in school history to begin a season 5-0, and of being the first Niles West squad since 2004 to qualify for the postseason.
“I think just getting this 10th game is a big step in our program,” said junior Garrett Iverson, a wide receiver and defensive back. “We were the first team in Niles West history to go 5-0. We’re making history in our program. It’s disappointing to end like this, but all-in-all I think we (made) a big step in our program.”
Niles West took a four-game losing streak into its week of preparation for Palatine, but coach Scott Baum could feel a tangible difference in the team’s intensity and excitement as the Wolves prepared for their Oct. 27 playoff game.
As Baum tries to continue the program’s ascension, he hopes Niles West’s experience in the playoffs provides motivation for the underclassmen as they prepare for next season.
“I can’t say enough about this week of practice,” Baum said. “You can talk about being in the playoffs, but being out there for five days practicing – we had some sophomores up, and we were young all year – that just buys us so much. That, as a coach, is tough to teach. But when they see (the playoff atmosphere), that’s pretty cool. They got that experience just out here today with the crowd and stuff.”
Niles West, like most teams, will be forced to replace several senior standouts heading into next season. The high school careers of wide receiver Jeremiah Jordan, running back Anthony Underwood, defensive lineman Vaughn Monreal-Berner, linebacker James Williams and cornerback Jake Glotzer all ended with the 69-42 defeat.
But several underclassmen assumed vital roles this season. Players like junior Andrew Milhulet hope getting the taste of the postseason provides increased focus and intensity in offseason workouts and, eventually, leads Niles West back to the same position next year.
“We’re only going to have a three-week break and then we’re back in the weight room,” said Milhulet, a cornerback and wide receiver. “We’re a year-round program and we’re trying to make it the best that we can. Maybe we can improve our record for next year and get home-field advantage.”~.