High school football: Prairie Ridge starts over after winning state title

Ken Koontz for Shaw Media
Prairie Ridge senior linebacker Joe Perhats readies himself during practice Friday, July 14, 2017, in Crystal Lake. The Wolves are the defending Class 6A state champions.
Ken Koontz for Shaw Media Prairie Ridge senior linebacker Joe Perhats readies himself during practice Friday, July 14, 2017, in Crystal Lake. The Wolves are the defending Class 6A state champions.

CRYSTAL LAKE – Prairie Ridge football coach Chris Schremp took a page from the playbook of an NFL legend on the team’s first day of summer practice.

“I showed the players a quote from Vince Lombardi,” said Schremp, “and how he would start his first practice, always, ‘Here. This is a football.’ ”

He then showed his coaching staff a video clip of former NFL quarterback Brett Favre admitting that he did not know the difference between a nickel and dime defense in his third season.

Eventually, the Hall of Famer mustered the courage – and overcome his embarrassment – to ask his backup, Ty Detmer.

“That was kind of our premise for the start of our camp,” said Schremp, who is 120-50 in 15 seasons as coach of the Wolves. “We can’t assume just because we’ve got guys coming back that they know everything. We are starting over again. It’s a new team, and we can’t assume anything.

“When you do that, you see mistakes over and over again.”

Schremp and the Wolves are coming off the greatest season in the school’s 20-year history. In November, Prairie Ridge rushed for a Class 6A championship game-record 544 yards to beat Springfield Sacred-Heart Griffin, 48-17, completing the program’s first perfect season at 14-0.

Now, like every team throughout Illinois with state title aspirations, the Wolves are starting over.

“It’s not going to change anything for us,” senior two-way lineman and Iowa commit Jeff Jenkins said of winning the school’s second state title in six seasons. “That was last year, and it is a whole new year. We’re not going to play like we won state last year. That’s in the past for us.”

Prairie Ridge joined Woodstock last year as the second Fox Valley Conference school to win multiple state football titles. Woodstock won a Class 4A title in 1983 and a Class 5A title in 1997.

Cary-Grove is the only other FVC school to win a state championship, winning the 6A title in 2009.

With 10 returning starters (five on offense, five on defense), Prairie Ridge is poised to make another deep playoff run. The Wolves have made the playoffs in 11 of the past 12 years.

Samson Evans, the two-time defending Northwest Herald Football Player of the Year, broke the 6A state championship record with 274 rushing yards. He finished his junior season with 2,221 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns. He also threw for 815 yards and 13 TDs.

Evans will join Jenkins at Iowa in 2018 after committing to the Big Ten school in May.

“These guys learned last year, no matter how many points we score or if we have a shutout on defense, there’s always things you have to improve on,” Schremp said. “That’s the only way you can continue to win, if you believe you need to improve. So, that’s what we’ve got to drive home.”

Prairie Ridge’s triple-option offense averaged more than 50 points a game last season, and the defense allowed only 11.2 points. Schremp expects the offense and defense to be fast, a staple of last year’s state championship run that had other teams chasing the Wolves all season.

“The guys that we’ve got coming up and playing for those open spots are athletic kids, too, filling in,” Schremp said. “I think we’re going to have a really fast defense and a really fast offense and with the type of play we have, that’s so important to our success.”

Linebackers Joe Perhats and Jacob Ommen earned Northwest Herald All-Area first-team honors a year ago and are back for their senior season.

Perhats said the intensity of this year’s summer practice has surpassed last year.

“I think that coming off of the state title, we have a chance to accomplish something special, and the intensity has risen a little more,” Perhats said. “It’s a huge target, but you forget about last year. We’re not going to change anything up. We’re going to do exactly what we did last year.”

One big difference this year is that the Wolves are garnering a little more attention with their weekly TV segment on Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s “Drive.”

Jenkins said it hasn’t been a distraction for the team, just an added bit of fun.

“We’re all hardworking guys, and everybody is committed to the team,” Jenkins said. “Nobody is missing practice or anything. Everyone is out there ready to work. Everyone wants to get better in the weight room and on the practice field.”

Prairie Ridge opens Aug. 25 at home against Cary-Grove followed by another tough test at Huntley. Last year, the Wolves beat the Trojans, 26-14, to start the season on their way to Champaign.

Schremp hopes all of the big games last year will help the Wolves.

“Last year, even though we won our game against Cary, our inexperience in that game showed,” Schremp said. “We made a lot of simple mistakes we didn’t make the rest of the season. I hope having that experience back on both sides and playing in a lot of big games will help us.”

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