Prairie Ridge has arrived. Coach Chris Schremp has built a football powerhouse in Crystal Lake.
The Wolves have won two Class 6A state titles, but beating out Class 8A stalwarts like Maine South and Loyola to earn the preseason No. 1 ranking shows just how much the program has grown.
“It’s been 20 years of hard work to build it,” Schremp said.
Prairie Ridge has five starters back on both sides of the ball from last season’s Class 6A state championship team, but quarterback Samson Evans is the key to the lofty preseason ranking.
Evans was the jaw-dropping star attraction of the state finals last year. The Iowa recruit had 24 carries for 274 yards, a Class 6A title game record, scored four rushing touchdowns and threw a touchdown pass. The Wolves beat Sacred Heart-Griffin to complete a perfect 14-0 season. Many observers thought that Prairie Ridge was the best team regardless of class.
“It’s weird for me to see us ranked so high at the start of the preseason,” Schremp said. “Normally we have to earn our ranking.”
Schremp has been in charge since 2002. He is 120-50 overall and won the school’s first Class 6A state title back in 2012.
“Most Sun-Times readers don’t know where the heck we are at,” Schremp said. “If we were Crystal Lake North more people might realize. Part of it is my fault. I haven’t promoted the program and pounded our chests saying look at us, look at us. We just go about our business and know that people will figure out how good we are when they see us win games and see where we are at the end of the season.”
Schremp thinks Evans can reach another level this season. The quarterback agrees.
“Definitely,” Evans said. “It all starts at practice. If I keep working hard I can definitely improve. There are things that I did well in [the Class 6A title game] there are also things I didn’t do well. I can get faster with my reads and running the ball. I can see the field better.
“I’m a little bigger than I was last year but I have the same speed, maybe even a little faster. I was a little slower because I hurt my leg, so that’s a lot better now.”
Evans runs a dynamic offense that averaged more than 50 points per game last season, but the Wolves are led by tough, fast defense. Prairie Ridge shut three teams out last season and allowed just 11.2 points per game.
“The No. 1 ranking won’t make much of a difference,” Evans said. “There was a mark on our backs last year. Everyone was gunning for us. It will be the same thing this year. We just can’t worry about that. We have to stay focused an play our game and perfect what we have to do.
Cornerback Justin Mikolajczewski, defensive end Phil Koenig, linebackers Joe Perhats and Jacob Ommen are all back. Iowa recruit Jeff Jenkins returns and will anchor both lines.
“The experience is nice,” Schremp said. “They understand some of the formations they are going to see and the players they are going to see. But every year is a different season. We have to make these guys better, we can’t just assume they are going to be good.”
PRAIRIE RIDGE SCHEDULE
Aug. 25 vs. Cary-Grove
Sep. 1 at Huntley
Sep. 8 vs. Crystal Lake Central
Sep. 15 at Crystal Lake South
Sep. 22 vs. Bartlett
Sep. 29 at McHenry
Oct. 6 at Hampshire
Oct. 13 vs. Jacobs
Oct. 20 vs. Dundee-Crown
This is the eighth story in the Sun-Times 2017 Football Countdown series. Here’s what you can expect over the next couple weeks:
Aug. 23: Week 1’s top games
Aug. 24: A capsule look at the Super 25, Top 50 players