Plainfield North isn't old enough to have a football tradition. The eight-year-old school still seeking its first victory in the state playoff. So what do you do when you don't have a tradition? You make one up.
"Our first class started with a sledgehammer," said quarterback Kurt Palandech. "It was placed in the locker room and they would bring it onto the field for games. The motto was: 'Keep hammering.' It was our first tradition and we stuck with it. We don't bring it onto the field anymore for games but we keep it in the locker room."
Now Palandech, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound senior, and his teammates are eager to establish another tradition. The Tigers are looking ahead to becoming the first class to win a state playoff game. They will open against Southwest Prairie rival Oswego in Class 7A. They lost to Oswego 35-7 in Week 7.
"We want to be a consistent playoff team," Palandech said. "We want to let people know that we have a good program. We want to be remembered as the first team at our school to get to make a deep run in the playoff and get to the state title game. We have high expectations."
Coming off a 4-5 finish last year, coach Tim Kane also had high expectations for 2012. With 17 returning starters, he had every reason to believe his team should compete for the conference title and go deep into the playoff for the first time.
"Last year, we expected more," Kane said. "We were inconsistent. We were very young and had a lot of juniors playing key positions. We played well one week, not so well the next week. We were coming off two good years (7-3 in 2009 and 2010) and improving each year. To take a step back was disappointing."
This team has responded to adversity. After being stopped at the 10 in the closing seconds of a 27-22 opening loss to Bradley 27-22 in Week 1, the Tigers won five games in a row before losing to Oswego 35-7. Then they dispatched Minooka 28-20 last week.
"The loss to Oswego was a real setback," Palandech said. "We didn't perform well on offense. It was disappointing. But we can't do anything about it now. It was a learning experience. We looked at the film and saw our mental errors and breakdowns. We had chances to score but couldn't connect. But Oswego is a good team and they took advantage of our mistakes.
"We bounced back against Minooka. It was like a playoff game. It was a must win for them to qualify for the playoff and a must win for us coming off a loss. It was high intensity. We wanted to get the losing taste out of our mouths."
Against Minooka, Palandech completed 11 of 20 passes for 128 yards, including touchdown passes of 11 yards to Brett Fox and 14 yards to Brock Thomas. With leading rusher Jay Roberts sidelined with a thigh bruise, junior Robert Baker stepped up and rushed for 66 yards. Kendall Interial's 96-yard return of the second half kickoff gave Plainfield North a 20-10 lead.
In last Friday's 48-14 romp over Oswego East, Palandech rushed eight times for 181 yards and scored two touchdowns, including an 87-yarder, and threw a short touchdown pass. Roberts returned in style by rushing 15 times for 104 yards and two touchdowns.
"The strength of this team is its senior leadership, the overall attitude of the kids," Kane said. "They have responded to adversity. They put in a lot of time in the off-season and went into this season expecting to be good. It is important to them to be successful."
Palandech has rushed for 600 yards, passed for more than 600 and averages eight yards per carry in the Tigers' I formation. Roberts is a 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior who has rushed for more than 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Other mainstays are 6-foot-5, 305-pound senior tackle Zack Yost, 6-foot-7, 275-pound senior tackle Kiefer Ketelhut, 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior tight endlinebacker Brett Fox, 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior safety Collin Holt, 6-foot, 190-pound senior defensive end Ben Toledo and 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior defensive end Ben Meyers.
In the wake of last year's 4-5 finish, Palandech and his teammates re-dedicated themselves in the summer. They spent a lot of time lifting weights and running pass routes and participating in 7-on-7 competitions. They won the Bolingbrook tournament.
"I'm known for scrambling but I prefer to throw first," Palandech said. "We stick to what we are good at, running the ball and not making mistakes. Physically, we think we can compete with anyone. This team never quits. We always think we are in the game even when we are down."
Palandech wants to play quarterback in college. He has a 4.9 grade-point average on a 5.0 scale and scored 26 on his ACT. He wants to study engineering at an Ivy League school. Last summer, he visited Cornell, Columbia, Penn and Princeton. He also visited Illinois State and Northern Illinois. Illinois, Vanderbilt and Wyoming are evaluating him as an athlete, maybe a wide receiver or defensive back.
"But my goal is to play quarterback in college," he said, noting that he is a three-sport athlete who attended summer camps and was timed in 4.5 for 40 yards and also impressed in agility drills. "I hope some school likes me. I don't have any offers. There is something about being a quarterback in football that is special."