This is another installment of our Football 101 series heading into the start of the fall high school football practice. Find all the stories, as they appear, along with our Football 101 video series with coaches from Huntley, Marian Central and Johnsburg here.
Narratively-speaking, there wasn't anything special about perhaps the most impressive offensive display in McHenry County last season.
Crystal Lake Central's Jack Ortner didn't have some indescribable pregame feeling that something special was about to happen, nor was there a specific game plan put in place for him. But that didn't take away from when, over the course of one game, Ortner reeled in 19 catches, 15 of them in the first half.
The performance was one catch shy of setting a state record. And in many ways, it was foreign to the McHenry County area, an area — football-wise — that is often a display of the “old-school” ground and pound run game.
“It just kind of came with the game,” Ortner said about last season's Week 4 matchup with Huntley. “We kept taking what they were giving us and a lot of them were just short underneath routes.”
Within McHenry County, there is a disparity in the role of the receiver. For some teams, like Crystal Lake Central, the receiver is a valuable offensive threat, someone who can change the game with one play. For other schools, they're another cog in the run game.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Crystal Lake Central’s Jack Ortner said about being on a pass-happy team. “You get a lot balls on average each game and it’s just fun to be on a team that throws the ball a lot.”
The role of receiver, like most positions on a football field, can be a position defined by the small details. One misstep can be the difference between a game-changing play, or jogging back to the huddle empty-handed, literally and figuratively.
“Everyone has to hustle, make every play count, because every play could be either their last play of the game, or a game-deciding play,” said Marian Central’s Matt Ricchiuto, who is listed at tight end, but will split out wide on occasion.
Falling on the other side of the spectrum, in terms of the split between running and passing, is Cary-Grove.
As a team last season, Cary-Grove ran the ball for 2,611 yards. One of the reasons the Trojans ran the ball so effectively is because they could depend on their wide receivers to make perimeter blocks when they need to.
“You have to have perimeter blocking, especially in the option because when they pitch the ball, we’re the guys blocking for them,” said Cary-Grove’s Jimmy Freskos, who will line up at wide receiver and some tight end this year. “[The coaches] talk to us all the time about how important our position is.”
Because of receivers varying roles around the area, many of their practice schedules can look drastically different depending on the name located on the front of their jerseys. At Marian Central and Crystal Lake Central, wide receivers spend most of their time running routes and catching the ball, whereas at Cary-Grove, the wide receivers, or any form of pass-catcher, can bide most of their time with blocking drills.
And while receivers on teams like Cary-Grove may not get thrown to all the time, their pass-catching abilities are certainly not downplayed or made less important.
“We only get the ball thrown to us a certain amount of times in a game, so we have to make the most of our opportunities,” Freskos said.
Amidst all these differences, there does seem to be one similarity amongst most receivers in the area, and all position players for that matter. And that’s the anticipation of the new season.
“I’m ready for the actual season to start,” Ortner said. “I’m excited for this year.”