Personally, Maine South coach Dave Inserra admits that he has daily thoughts about last year's heartbreaking 24-22 loss to Stevenson in the second round of the Class 8A playoff.
"We have to overcome it. It shows how hard it is to win a state championship, for everything to fall in place," Inserra said. "We lacked enthusiasm last year. We weren't ready to play against Stevenson.
"We got down big (the Hawks trailed 24-7 in the third quarter). Then we started to roll. But you have to step on the field that way. You can't wait until the fourth quarter."
So as he prepares for the 2012 campaign--Maine South opens at Warren in Gurnee on Aug. 24, then plays at Wheaton Warrenville South on Aug. 31--Inserra is looking for a measure of enthusiasm that he insists was missing a year ago.
"Enthusiasm is playing with confidence, getting the ball rolling," Inserra said. "You could see it at Stevenson when we were making our comeback. Kids play with emotion. When they don't, when you have to pretend, it doesn't get you anywhere. It is such a rough, tough, hard game. You have to make it fun."
Maine South usually plays with emotion and enthusiasm. The Hawks usually make the game fun. In Inserra's 11 years, they have won 89 percent (126-15) of their games. The won state championships in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and finished second in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
This year? "The sky is the limit in terms of what we can do. Potentially, this team has the ability to be among the top three of all the teams I have coached," said Inserra, ranking them with the 2003 team quarterbacked by junior Sean Price and the 2008 powerhouse led by quarterback Charlie Goro and running back Matt Perez.
"We have a top-notch quarterback and team leader (Matt Alviti) and our offensive line is coming back. Our biggest issues are a tough schedule and a young defense. We have the right guys in place on defense and they can be very good. But they don't have a ton of experience."
Alviti, who is committed to Northwestern, is the key. He guided Maine South to the Class 8A championship as a sophomore. He passed for over 3,150 yards in 14 games as a sophomore and over 2,220 yards in 11 games as a junior. He has thrown for 54 touchdowns.
"He can make any throw. That sets him apart from other quarterbacks. He has such a strong arm, great mechanics," Inserra said. "My mouth opens and I stare at times: 'What a play.' But he has to do more with his legs this year. He has a better receiving corps than last year and he will run more behind a good offensive line. When he can run the ball, it makes defending the pass that much harder."
But Inserra is looking for more emotion and enthusiasm from Alviti, whom he ranks as the best quarterback he has produced, better than Price and Goro. "His skill sets are definitely above everybody else. He can go farther in college than any quarterback we have had," the coach said.
"But I continue to get on him and remind him that as a sophomore he played with youthful enthusiasm. As a senior, he is a leader but we need that enthusiasm, too. He has to show it so the team sees it...energy, excitement. When he throws a touchdown pass, don't let it be old. Celebrate, enjoy, have fun."
Alviti will have the luxury of running and throwing behind a strong offensive line headed by 6-foot-3, 275-pound tackle Pat Maloney, 6-foot-2, 285-pound guard Dan Poulos and 6-foot-2, 230-pound center Donnie Nordstrom and a talented receiving corps headed by 6-foot-4, 230-pound tight end John Solari and wide receivers Mike Bosco and Frankie Perrone.
Maloney, who is committed to Ball State, will play 60 percent at defensive tackle. Inserra ranks him as one of the three leading two-way linemen he has coached. Poulos, who scored 33 on his ACT, is attracting attention from Ivy League schools.
Maloney, Nordstrom and Bosco will be among five players who will start both ways, but not to worry. Inserra reminds he had six two-ways starters in 2008 and Perez and quarterback Tyler Benz started both ways in 2009.
"When you have good athletes, you use them," he said.
Anthony Mitchell, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound senior, will get the ball at running back. Clay Burdelik, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior, will start at safety for the second year in a row and back up Mitchell.
The defensive leader will be 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior linebacker Noah Meyer, a returning starter who also will see duty at wide receiver. Meyer must fill the void left by two outstanding graduates, Luke Lenti and Tyler Fahey.
"We must be toughest on ourselves," Inserra summed up. "We must meet our expectations. We must be our own toughest opponent."