Trying to emmulate the high school football program is paying dividends for the Prairie Ridge Junior Wolves.
Three Wolves’ teams won Super Bowls in The Chicagoland Youth Football League. In the Big10 heavyweight division, Prairie Ridge defeated Cary, 30-6, in the title game Nov. 17 at Grayslake North. In the PAC middleweight division, the Wolves’ Maroon and Silver teams both won championships. Maroon defeated Zion, 22-6, in its Super Bowl on Nov. 15 at Carmel in Mundelein, and Silver defeated Antioch, 25-0, in the championship Nov. 17 at Grayslake North.
Wolves’ heavyweight co-coach Tom Gulbransen said the organization started working closely with the high school about three years ago to unify the program. Bret Grapenthin also coached the heavyweight Wolves.
“We had access to the coaches at our high school. The last couple of years we were close with the high school.,” Gulbransen said. “We really started running their offensive and defensive philosophies.”
Having a unified system really helped the less-experienced coaches both in setting up practices and in-game preparation. The adoption was basic at first, but became more advanced as the cooperative effort advanced.
“It helped the voluntary dads and coaches,” Gulbransen said. “When you really put it together, that’s where it’s been paying off for us.”
One of the biggest struggles at the junior level was trying to do everything like the high school with limited practice time, comparatively. Having the players during a high physical growth period also saw changes in their abilities and how they could best contribute to the team.
“Part of the challenge is getting everybody in the right position. We don’t have as much time as the high school,” Gulbransen said. “From third to eighth grade, it’s neat to see the kids grow up.”
It also has been a benefit for the high school program to get players who already have learned and played in the same system.
“There was no continuity when they moved to the next level,” Gulbransen said.
The heavyweight team was the first in the Junior Wolves program history to win a heavyweight Big10 title.
“We had a combination of size and talent, and speed in our skilled positions,” Gulbransen said.
And like all good football teams, the difference was the line play and having a good quarterback. Samson Evans led the heavyweight offensive attack at quarterback.
“It just really came together for us. From our line winning the battle in the trenches to our quarterback, who helped open everything else,” Gulbransen said.
Helping win that battle in the trenches was Jeff Jenkins, Joe Perhats and Justin Grapenthin. Zach Gulbransen helped the offensive attack at fullback.
What made the championship even more special was beating Cary, a local rival, in the championship and perennial powerhouse Plainfield in the semifinals.
“We were contolling both the offensive and defensive line,” Gulbransen said of the Super Bowl. “We outmanned them and executed better than they did.”
• Rob Smith is a sports writer for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.