Pep rally Wednesday honors Naperville Central state football champs
One of the best ways to mark a high school career is remembering you were part of a major state championship, especially in something like football.
Students at Naperville Central celebrated a lifetime of bragging rights Wednesday afternoon as the school held a raucous pep rally for the Class 8A champions, who beat Loyola Academy last weekend by a score of 13-10, putting a cap on their 11-3 season and earning their first state football title since 1999.
The Redhawks entered the tournament as a Number 7 seed before reeling off four straight wins en route to their impressive championship.
Team captain, quarterback Jake Kolbe, 17, a four-year player, said that hard work and a growing sense of “building brotherhood” brought the team success this year.
“We had a short season last year going 4-5, and had a month more of work in the off season than we normally have,” Kolbe said. “There were a lot of days of coming in at 6 in the morning and lifting, as well as throwing the ball in the field house in the cold. I think all the hard work builds a strong team, and we’ve all become friends that are going to be together for a long time.”
Recognition for the football team capped off the school-wide pep assembly, which was part of students’ shortened day Wednesday due to a late start because of faculty meetings in the morning and the assembly in the afternoon.
Athletic Director Andrew Lutzenkirchen was quick to point out the assembly was not just about football.
“We’re also recognizing the number one singles champion in tennis Tiffany Chen, and our diver, Sydney Dusel, who won the state diving title,” Lutzenkirchen said. “The unique thing about our school and kids here is that they all support each other. We were also third in boys’ soccer this fall, and the football players come out and support that team just like the soccer kids go and watch football.”
Head football coach Mike Stine, who has headed the Redhawks program for eight years, said success this year was due to following the same routine regardless of the outcome of the previous game as well as stressing that “no one, whether it be coaches or players, is bigger than the program.”
“We were 4-5 last year, and we still continued to do things the same way we always have,” Stine said. “There is a routine we follow. When we lost three games in a row, we realized some things like we didn’t have to panic if we got down in a game. We were behind 28-0 against Glenbard North, and we came back before we lost 41-35. Even though as a coach you never feel that losing is good, we realized after that game that we’re never out of it.”
Stine called the current group of players “special” and said the morale in the hallways of the school as well as the community throughout the playoffs has been amazing.
“You start the playoffs and if you win a game or two, things start to become a beast of their own,” he said. “There is a snowball effect, and the attitude of everyone is so amazing. There’s the pride of ownership of having won something like this.”
Faculty member Kristina Hagenbaumer, who teaches physical education at Naperville Central and also serves as its assistant activity director, said it has been inspiring to see how the state title “has brought everyone together.”
“We’ve talked about how talented the kids at this school are and it’s neat to see how the student body and staff influence one another,” she said. “Kids haven’t been losing focus on school and classes because of this. In fact, it has motivated many of them to come to school early. They’re proud to be here.”
Students like Adam Jannusch, 14, a freshman who played football this year, said the championship provides a blueprint for the school’s athletic future.
“It’s been pretty crazy around here, and I’m optimistic this won’t be the high point of my high school career,” Jannusch said. “Hopefully this is something we can build off of and try to win it again during my junior or senior year.”
Starting middle linebacker Bobby McMillen, who is a junior, said the current celebration won’t last much longer.
“Coach Stine told the team last summer during camp that making the state championship was the goal of the team, and the three successive losses the team later suffered made us humble and motivated us to work harder,” he said. “We realized after those losses that we weren’t that good and we needed to work harder. We judge ourselves on effort, not on wins. The work is the reward, and the work we’ve done is serious. We’re going to celebrate a few more days, and then get back to it.”