Ever since he was 10 years old, since travel leagues became popular and he began to receive national exposure in his favorite sport, Prairie Ridge's Jordan Getzelman felt baseball was his future.
The budding center fielder who produced a .465 batting average last spring has been a presence since he earned all-tournament recognition in USSSA World Series events at age 11 and 15. A junior, he already has been focusing on college baseball. National powers LSU and Stanford have expressed interest. So have Michigan, Northwestern and Central Michigan.
Nobody seemed interested in Getzelman as a football player--not until now. Not until the 6-1, 215-pound running backreceiver emerged as one of the leaders in Prairie Ridge's drive to the Class 6A championship. He rushed 26 times for 175 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-14 victory over Peoria Richwoods to cap a 13-1 season.
"He had a phenomenal season," coach Chris Schremp said. "He did so much for our team. He snapped on punts and field goals, returned punts and kickoffs, was our leading rusher (1,394 yards, 28 touchdowns) and our leading receiver (20 catches, 429 yards). He did it all for us."
Now Getzelman admits, it might be a mistake to write off football with another year ahead of him. If he could improve his burst of speed, from 4.8 to 4.6 or 4.5, Schremp believes he could attract Division I recruiters. Getzelman already is entertaining the possibility.
"I have been playing at a higher level of baseball for a longer time than football," he said. "But football has taken off for me now. I used to have more love for baseball. But winning a state title in football has been something special."
"I'd still like to play baseball (in college and professionally) but if I could get faster and be an elite running back on a national level, I'd love to do it. My goal in the off-season is to get bigger, stronger and faster, to cut my speed to 4.6 or 4.5."
"This season has put some new thoughts in my mind. Maybe I'm better than I thought I was. My talent level has changed a bit. No one has talked to me about football, no colleges. But I'd have to keep an open mind if some big schools called. It is too early to stop considering all of my options."
Until he enrolled at Prairie Ridge, Getzelman wasn't known as a football player. Before high school, he played tight end and defensive line. Then he was moved to running back. As a sophomore, however, he missed the first eight games with an injury.
"It was a disappointing season for me," he said. "But what made me want to keep going was that I was brought up to the varsity for the state playoff. We got to the semifinals and I was a part of it."
Getzelman and his teammates had high expectations for 2011. Schremp said it was the best team he had coached in 10 years. "Under our breath, we talked about a state appearance. We knew we had talent to get back to the semifinals. But was a state title realistic?" Getzelman said.
"I was beyond expectations this year. I felt I could be good with Connor Greenwald at fullback. But I didn't expect to rush for nearly 1,400 yards and 28 touchdowns. We were better than I thought we would be. Now I have new goals. I have room to get better and stronger and faster. I look back on every game film and pick out things I did wrong, where I can get more yards, increase my speed and improve my reads."
Meanwhile, Schremp is basking in the glow of the Crystal Lake school's first state football championship.
"I was sitting on the bus coming home from Champaign and I had my phone out. I was on the phone for three hours. I want to answer all the e-mails. I have over 200 in the box now...old high school friends, college friends, coaches. I never dreamed of such a response," Schremp said.
"What was most overwhelming was at the pep rally on Sunday when the principal (Paul Humpa), superintendent (Jill Hawk) and athletic director (Patti Hie) spoke about me...nice things, what I taught the team, more than blocking and tackling. I broke down in tears. It was a nice pat on the back and a hug."
Schremp has come a long way. When Prairie Ridge opened, there was a UPS strike. So the football staff went to the loading docks to get blocking sleds and other equipment that couldn't be delivered. In their first season, the Wolves won only one game, played their first home game at Crystal Lake South and the home field didn't have a press box or concession stand. Most kids in the school district chose to attend Crystal Lake Central rather than Prairie Ridge.
"In 14 years, we've gone from there to a state title. I've seen it all," he said. "It is gratifying to get to this point, knowing I have been a big part of it. Every year we have taken steps. And this was my best team, the best overall group of kids, athletes and character-wise. I have received e-mails from referees who said they were so impressed with our kids. It tells me how well our kids have represented our program and the school."
Dave Whitson was the head coach for the first five years. Schremp took over in 2002. "When I took over, I was learning to be a head coach. I was 29 years old, not ready to be a head coach," Schremp said.
But he learned quickly. He hired two veteran coaches with histories of success, Bill Mack from Crystal Lake Central and Grant Blaney, who had directed Buffalo Grove to a state championship in 1986.
"I was surprised to be named head coach at 29," he said. "I don't think I was ready for it from an X's and O's standpoint. But I applied a lot of what (Mack and Blaney) did with their successful teams. I felt I could communicate with kids and parents. That was my strong point. Then I had to come up with a plan."
It all came together in the next few years. Eight years ago, in an effort to compete against conference rival Cary-Grove, he switched from a 6-1 to a 3-5 defense. And, with Mack's guidance, he installed an option offense because he had an abundance of 5-10, 180-pound linemen and not enough Division I linemen to overpower opponents.
"We could always find athletic kids to run the option offense and we didn't need big linemen or a passing quarterback," Schremp said. "I felt we could find the best athlete and have him run the offense and teach him to read the option."
But perhaps the biggest plus in Prairie Ridge's program is the off-season program. "It is called the Maroon Platoon. It is what sets us apart," Schremp said.
"We've stolen ideas from clinics and other coaches. We track our kids in the weight room, the 40-yard dash and agility tests. We award a point for every pound they lift in the weight room. We also award points for conduct and positive behavior in school. We e-mail teachers every week for feedback on players.
"It has changed the overall feeling of our program. It's a 24-hours-a-day thing. Kids are held to a higher standard being an athlete. They have to do well in school, too. The parents and kids and faculty have bought into it. It has made a difference in the program."
But what about next year? Only three offensive starters and three defensive starters will return. Getzelman and 6-4, 255-pound sophomore tackle Shane Evans will be the headliners. Evans projects to be one of the top prospects in the class of 2014 when he is a senior. But will they be enough?
"It will be a test of me and my staff to keep it going, getting the next group of guys ready to go," Schremp said. "We have a really good sophomore class that was 7-2. We won't change our game plan. We have to stay grounded. It took 14 years to get here. We can't think we have it all figured out. We got to the state title because we worked hard at it. We can't let it get to our head. We have a whole new set of guys playing next year and we'll have a target on our backs."
For the time being, however, he will just take time to enjoy the moment. He watched the game film after arriving home on Saturday night. It still seemed too surreal, seeing his team play on the turf of Illinois' Memorial Stadium. "I dreamed of it. I still don't know if it has sunk in," he said.
On Tuesday, he was sitting in his living room with a representative from Josten's, picking out championship rings. The company had e-mailed him after Saturday's game, almost before he had time to change his shirt.
"Some of the rings look like trophies on your finger. I'm still making a decision," he said. "Everything has been great. The ladies in the school cafeteria made me a big cookie. I haven't paid for lunch in a long time. My daughter broke her foot and on the way to her doctor's appointment, we got a free breakfast at the local diner, Caf Olympia. And I got a free turkey sandwich at Jimmy John's. I told the kids they have to keep winning."