A Team Built in Practice By Elena Bellisario

Every Friday, you can easily spot their orange and blue jerseys in class. Every Friday night, you can watch them under the bright lights, fighting for a win. But what drives the players to step on the field in the first place?

At the Monday practice of homecoming week, Head Coach Sean Drendel began with a speech. He told the players a story about how the University of Illinois invited alumni back to the university to watch a football game, calling the event homecoming. Over time, it turned into a large celebration, with dances and parades. However, at its core, homecoming is about football. He ended the speech by telling the players to keep one question in mind throughout the week:

Why do I play football?

Players discovered their love of football at a range of ages, some as young as third grade. They typically joined for one of two reasons: they thought it looked fun and that it would be a good way to make new friends.

“I remember watching NFL and college games as a kid, and I thought it looked really fun. When I got the opportunity to play in third grade, I fell in love with it and the aggressive nature of the game.” - Cole Loebig, #2

Having fun and making friends may have been what lured the players into the sport, but they are also the reasons many players stay. The camaraderie of the football team is clear on and off the field, with a sense of encouragement that has carried the team through their season.

“Practice is a lot of toughness and perseverance, but we believe in each other, which helps a lot.” - Liam Breese, #27

This camaraderie is showcased on the field, but built during the long hours of practice Monday-Saturday. In between running drills and making plays, the athletes can be seen taking dance breaks or practicing handshakes. The coaches help keep a balance of fun and work, incorporating playful competitions into practice. These competitions are usually offense against defense, and the players get to work on their skills, while also having a little friendly competition.

“This year, [the captains] want to have more smiles on our [team’s] faces rather than taking things so seriously and creating unnecessary stress. This way our team is more relaxed going into games.” - Anthony Gabrione, #3

“On the bad days, football cheers me up.” - Zeke Williams, #6

The fun, however, isn’t limited to practice. Every Thursday, the team has a pasta party at the Naperville United Methodist Church. This team dinner is an opportunity for players to bond, hangout and relax before their game on Friday.

“What keeps me playing is the brotherhood. We’ve become so close as a team throughout these past four years. I love the pasta dinners and hanging out over the weekend and after the games, that’s the stuff that has meaning for me.” - Barrett Fiore, #4

None of this camaraderie and fun would be possible without the coaches, who play a major role in the players’ lives, ultimately shaping their views on the game.

“The coaches are like father figures to me. They are role models and people I can look up to.” - Robert Padgett, #64

“This program does a great job focusing on making you a better man after this process. One of [the coaches’] biggest goals is making you a better person leaving North than when you came in.” - Michael Miranda, #40

All of the fun, friendship, hard work and coaches creates an atmosphere unlike any other. Ultimately, it all boils down to a love for the game.

“I play football because I love it. It's grown from something I did as a hobby into something I truly love. It’s a part of me.” - Jason Gramins, #8