Football returns to Farragut after a five-year hiatus

The Admirals had a winning record in their last season, going 5-3 in the Intra-City 3 conference five years ago. But when their head coach stepped down, the school had trouble finding a replacement.

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Farragut’s Josiah Carrillo hands the ball off to Aerion Walker during a workout last week,

Farragut’s Josiah Carrillo hands the ball off to Aerion Walker during a workout last week,

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

When you’re rebooting a football program after a five-year hiatus, you know victories on the field might take awhile to come.

But Farragut coach Dan Stekala already can count some victories outside the lines.

‘‘I’m excited to get the team going,’’ said Stekala, who came to Farragut as a teacher last school year. ‘‘It’s changed a lot of the kids’ morale around the school. Some of the kids went from struggling with their GPAs to now I’m holding them to a standard where they’re not just athletes but student-athletes. . . .

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‘‘I saw kids improve their grades from D’s and F’s to finishing the semester with at least B’s. So I think that even if we weren’t necessarily successful on the football field, I at least helped them become successful in the classroom.’’

That said, Stekala wants to stir the echoes of Farragut football, which — even when active — often was overshadowed by a consistently strong basketball program.

Stekala, who played at Argo and coached on the lower levels at St. Laurence and Oak Lawn, points with pride to some of the Admirals’ alumni from the 1960s.

Otis Armstrong was a Big Ten most valuable player and All-American at Purdue before going on to play eight seasons for the Broncos, winning the NFL rushing title in 1974. The same year, Mack Herron broke the NFL’s single-season record for all-purpose yards while playing for the Patriots.

‘‘We do have some rich history,’’ Stekala said. ‘‘But a lot of kids don’t know that. They only know Farragut for Kevin Garnett and Ronnie Fields, right? And I want us to get beyond that and say: ‘OK, this is a school that can really contend [in football].’ We’ve got a lot of great talent in the school.’’

Farragut coach Dan Stekala blows his whistle during a summer workout.

Farragut coach Dan Stekala blows his whistle during a summer workout.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Getting that talent out at a smaller school (enrollment: 598) — especially one that last fielded a team in 2017 — is a challenge.

The Admirals had a winning record in their last season, going 5-3 in the Intra-City 3 conference five years ago. But when their head coach stepped down, the school had trouble finding a replacement.

The stars finally aligned when Stekala was hired as a teacher. He asked whether the school had a football team; administrators said it didn’t, but he could change that. So after getting necessary approvals from the local school council and Chicago Public Schools, Stekala got the go-ahead in the spring.

He started laying the groundwork, and now the Admirals are holding summer workouts at La Villita Park while a multipurpose turf field is being installed at the school.

There’s still a lot of work to do. Attendance at the workouts ranges from five or six some days to 11 to 13 on others. Only a few players have any football experience, and they’re all young. Farragut will play a junior-varsity schedule this fall with the goal of moving up to varsity in 2023.

With CPS schools moving up their start date into August, Stekala is hopeful of getting a roster of around 25 to allow for scout teams and at least some platooning.

In the meantime, he’ll be relying heavily on players such as 6-2, 205-pound sophomore Josiah Carrillo and 5-9, 170-pound sophomore Aerion Walker.

Carrillo, who can play anywhere from quarterback to tight end to defensive end, — ‘‘He’s like our Swiss Army knife,’’ Stekala said — looks like a football player. That’s probably because he has three years of experience as a grade-schooler at Piotrowski Park. Carrillo also played basketball in middle school, but he’s glad to have football back.

‘‘It kept me active and for sure kept that weight off,’’ he said.

Walker had no organized football experience but decided to join the program ‘‘because it’s fun. Well, not the conditioning. I want to get to the point where we start playing actual games.’’

Carrillo wants to get to the point where Farragut football is back on stable footing. With three seasons left in the program, he’s taking the long view.

‘‘To build a strong foundation,’’ he said of the team’s goal this fall. ‘‘So if we don’t have as much of a successful year, we can hopefully get more players out next season.’’

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