Baranek: Successful run for Rich Central’s ‘special group’

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Rich Central football coach Terrell Alexander was a pretty emotional guy after Rich Central’s 38-6 loss to host Lincoln-Way North in Friday night’s Class 6A second-round game.

He wasn’t angry. Not at all.

He told the kids not to hang their heads. That, he said, is not what Rich Central football is all about.

He told them they were a special group, one that made Rich Central proud.

He thanked them for taking him on his first state playoff ride as a head coach.

But he saved the best for last.

“I love all of you guys.” Trust me, he meant it. That part about being special, too.

“Oh, yeah, man,” he said Saturday. “This was a special group. They did everything from the offseason, to running track, to summer workouts. They believed it, and they got some success from it.

“Now, it’s not going to be as hard to convince the others classes that this is what you can do to get there.”

Rich Central is turning in its equipment after a stellar 9-2 season, the school’s best showing since 1982. The Olympians did it with an exciting offense, led by quarterback Michael Hoover, running back Ahmad McClellan and wide receiver DeQuan Dudley, that averaged a whopping 31 points per game and took defending Class 6A champion Crete-Monee to the wire before losing 27-26 in overtime.

You’ve got to go back to 2005 to find a Rich Central playoff team that snuck in at 5-5 and was rudely dismissed by Joliet Catholic in the first round 72-22. The 2002 team, under Jon McLaughlin, had the school’s last playoff win before finishing at 7-4.

Alexander, in his third season as head coach, turned a 3-6 squad from 2012 into a stateworthy entity by taking advantage of what he jokingly called, “a great opportunity.”

“We were done early last year, done by November,” he said. “We took a couple of weeks off and then we got right into it. From the first day there were 60-65 guys in the weight room.

“Then I got an opportunity to coach track, and all of those guys came out for track together. So we were still consistent with those same 60-65 guys. They just wanted to be together. That galvanized us as a team.”

So did the right attitude. One of the greatest Rich Central success stories, according to Alexander, involved linebacker/tight end Jeremiah Mitchell, who after last season was asked to relinquish his spot as the starting quarterback because Alexander felt Hoover would be a more natural fit at the position.

“When we told him, he never batted an eye that he wasn’t the starting quarterback anymore,” Alexander said. “For him not to have an attitude, but instead supporting the new quarterback and help him out, was huge for the team. He was a real leader.”

And then there was linebacker/tight end Malik Fountain, who battled a sore ankle during the playoffs.

“It’s been kind of up and down,” Alexander said. “You know how it is with an ankle. It gets good, but you step wrong and then it becomes sore again. He limped around a couple of times during games, but he never made a big deal out of it. He finished, and did a great job.”

Mitchell. Hoover. Fountain. McClellan. They’re all seniors who will be missed. But Dudley, who scored their only touchdown on Friday, will be back, along with several other juniors who had quality playing time.

“We also had a real good class of sophomores, and then our freshman class, we’ve got some really huge kids who look like they might be able to step up and play next year,” Alexander said.

One and done? Not likely.

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