Patriots look to themselves for improvement

Patriots look to themselves for improvement

September 9, 2013, 11:30 pm
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Mark Strotman

As each of the 67 Stevenson Patriots silently filed into the weight room for their postgame debriefing following a 28-21 loss to Homewood-Flossmoor, a sense of urgency was apparent.

Defensive lineman Nick Dillon slowly walked in and took a seat on a bench-press bench; Safety Matt Morrissey, who caught four passes for 132 yards and a touchdown, undid his shoulder pads while sitting next to a rack of free-weight holders; quarterback Willie Bourbon sat down against the wall, sitting underneath a bar rack, staring straight ahead.

Just weeks ago this weight room was full of life and energy, with a bevy of seniors and future Division I college football stars lifting weights, building strength and camaraderie in anticipation for the start of a 2013 season with massive expectations.

Adorning the spacious weight room walls are Patriots logos and state playoff appearances from the best teams in school history. But as the players entered the weight room – some sat, most took a knee and others, too upset to stand still, walked around the back of the locker room waiting for the coaching staff to break down a second straight loss – the most important item on the walls were the floor-to-ceiling mirrors, which the Patriots stared into while reflecting on what exactly has gone wrong in the early going.

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“Are we a talented football team? Hell yeah,” head coach Bill McNamara told his team. “We all know that. Are we playing to our potential? We are not. Not yet. We need to take a lesson from that. We need to come together and execute for four quarters of football.”

As McNamara spoke to his team in the weight room, convincing his team the talent in front of him was good enough to still compete for a state championship, that sense of urgency transformed into a sense of focus. Staring into those mirrors, the Patriots are now beginning to realize the time has come to look themselves in the eye to determine where their season is headed.

“It’s everybody,” Morrissey said. “We do have a group of leaders that brings everyone together, but it’s the whole team. From the top player to the bottom player, we’ve got to all bring ourselves together and become better as a unit.”

Morrissey was the best player on the field Friday night – he added 18 tackles Friday night – and Cameron Green (4 catches, 59 yards, TD) showed why Toledo offered the junior his first scholarship last week. Dillon was a force on the line, and linebacker Itai Gerchikov finished with 12 tackles for the second straight week.

But the problem with Stevenson has never been a lack of individual talent. The Patriots’ individual stars have vowed to do a better job leading so as to work as one unit instead of 11 players, something McNamara noted in his postgame speech. That commitment began as soon as the coaches were done speaking with the players. The leaders stayed back in the weight room and huddled together to discuss what next week’s approach would be.

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“We were saying that we’ve got to come together, not just those leaders,” senior linebacker Josh Junker, who finished with 12 tackles, said. “We really need to bring the family together. We’re stressing family this week, and every week after that.”

As defensive coordinator Josh Hjorth accurately pointed out to the team, the Patriots’ goals are still intact – the 2002 Stevenson team that went to State lost two regular-season games. And because the goals the Patriots came up with over the summer are the same, the team’s mentality hasn’t changed either.

“If we had won both our games we would not want our kids to become stagnant or complacent. The bottom line is you have to get better through the season, and really you want to be peaking at the end of the season,” McNamara said. “We just need to continue to get better. We can’t stagnate, and I think we have the players that will turn it on and get back to work this week.”