North Chicago High School football players can pinpoint the exact moment when this season went from being the expected train wreck to where the Warhawks are 2-0 and can at least dream of winning six games and making the playoffs for the first time since Mike Grenda’s glory days of 2005.
It happened at halftime of the season opener, when the Warhawks left the field looking like a loser after giving up 26 points in typical losing North Chicago fashion.
Since that moment, North Chicago’s defense has not given up a point — making a great goal-line stand to turn the Waukegan game around and shutting out (except for a safety) a high-powered King attack.
So, what happened …. And more to the point, can it continue this Saturday when North Chicago hosts Round Lake hoping to go 3-0 on the season and equal the win total of the last three years combined.
Here’s what some of the defensive starters said about the shocking turnaround from sieve to brick wall.
Said junior defensive end Jamal Dixon, “Waukegan started saying some things to us at halftime. You could see it in everybody’s eyes. We knew we had to have that half. In the King game, they beat us so bad last year that we had that feeling again that we had something to prove.”
Said junior linebacker Richard Cunningham, “Everybody is out there trying to get the hit. We have 11 guys on the field who want to make the play. “I knew our defense could be pretty good, but now everybody’s head is into it. Everybody is buckling down. Everybody is focused. The result is that now we’re making the plays we wouldn’t have made in the past.”
Said senior defensive end Allan White,“It definitely feels like we’re controlling the line this year. We have good players, and they’re all playing hard. We don’t have anybody slacking off.”
Said senior linebacker Manny Nickens, “Coach has told us in the past that we’re a team that has the chance to do great things, and we really are. Before, we didn’t have our heads into it. There was a lot of playing around at practice. This summer we said, ‘Enough is enough. It’s time to get serious about this football thing,’ so we stop being a team that ‘could’ be and start being a team that goes out there and wins football games.”
The goal, of course, is to make it happen at least for more times. A six-win season will get the Hawks into the playoff where they will tumble all the way down to the Class 4A bracket based on school size.
“Every week, they’re getting a little bit better. They haven’t really hit their stride yet. We want to keep the ball rolling,” coach Glen Kozlowski.
The last word goes to Arnold Shead a two-way player who will be playing on Saturdays in college somewhere.
“We don’t have just one person making plays. Everybody on defense can play, so guys are fighting for time,” he said. “If you don’t step up, somebody else will, and they’ll be playing in your spot next week. Nobody on this team wants to sit on the sideline.”