Bears

Williams adds punch to Lake Forest defense

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Williams adds punch to Lake Forest defense

Trent Williams, Lake Forest's 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior linebacker, is so active that statisticians can't seem to keep up with him.

In the wake of Lake Forest's 31-19 victory over Notre Dame last Friday in the quarterfinals of the Class 6A playoff, one report had Williams with a school-record seven sacks. Another report had him with six sacks, another with four and another with three.

After reviewing the game film, Lake Forest coach Chuck Spagnoli settled on six.

Williams, who also was credited with 10 tackles, set the tone early in the first quarter by slamming into the Notre Dame quarterback, forcing a fumble, then recovering it to set up Lake Forest's first touchdown.

"He has great genetics. He has good speed and strength and understands leverage. He's a hard guy to block," Spagnoli said. "He is a relentless competitor. He has fire in his belly. His game has gotten better in the last six weeks. Nothing surprises him anymore."

In a 33-13 victory over Libertyville in Week 6, he recovered a fumble and ran 40 yards for a touchdown. In a 23-21 upset of favored Lakes in the second round of the playoff, he blocked a punt and recovered a fumble.

But six sacks in one game? Are you listening, Julius Peppers?

"It isn't important that I had a lot of sacks. It only matters that we won the game," Williams said. "We haven't played a complete game yet. The offense has struggled a bit and the defense has given up some big plays. I don't like to look at the past but at what we can do to improve as a team."

Lake Forest (9-3) will host Cary-Grove (12-0) in a Class 7A semifinal on Saturday in Lake Forest. It marks the Scouts' first trip to the semifinals. They lost in the quarterfinals in 1992 and 1993.

"We don't have any Big Ten recruits on this team, just a lot of good high school players," Spagnoli said. "I feel (defensive lineman) Tom Kutschke is a Division I prospect. But nobody seems to be interested.

"I'm happy for the kids. We have no super stars. And we only have 45 kids on the varsity. But they are playing hard. They are playing well together. They understand all of their roles and assignments."

Spagnoli doesn't choose to dwell on the past. "I'm not that good at looking back," he said. But it is easy to argue that Lake Forest could be 12-0, not 9-3 and a No. 10 seed. The Scouts lost on a forfeit to Lake Zurich (teachers strike), a pass interference penalty against Stevenson and a missed 32-yard field goal with four seconds to play against Warren.

That left Lake Forest at 5-3. But the Scouts have won four in a row behind a fly-to-the-ball defense led by Kutschke and Williams and a quick-striking offense triggered by quarterback Andrew Clifford and running back Hub Cirame.

Against Notre Dame, Clifford passed for 152 of his 162 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. Cirame rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns. In 11 games, Clifford, who was mostly a backup last year, has passed for more than 2,500 yards.

"I'm not surprised. He is what we hoped he would be," Spagnoli said. "As a freshman and sophomore, he needed seasoning. He was immature. He had ability but, mentally, he wasn't ready to go. Last year, he started to play more and he realized how difficult it is and how important it is to stay focused. That's when the light went on for him. His leadership and mental framework are great now. He is a complete player."

The light went on for Trent Williams a year ago while watching his older brother Owen, a running back who now is red-shirting at Dayton, and working with Larry Lilja, Lake Forest's strength and conditioning coach and offensive line coach who spent more than 30 years at Northwestern.

"Playing with my brother showed me what it took to be a player. It was a learning process for me to learn what it took to be a varsity player," Trent said. "You have to play fast and smart and play for your teammates and the seniors. I'm trying to make more plays. This is the seniors' last year and I want to do this for them.

"This is my only sport. I started in third grade. There is something about the game that wants me to keep playing. I always liked hitting people. I remember what the coach (Lilja) said before the Lakes game. He said there is no other sport like football, the contact, and the kind of player it takes to play the game. I want to be that kind of player."

There may be no Division I prospects on the 2012 squad. "We just have a bunch of scrappers who play together and play fast and try their hardest in every single game," Williams said. But Williams could emerge as a big-timer as a senior. He hopes to play in college--at the highest level he can. His dream school is Michigan, where his uncle played.

"I want to get bigger and stronger and faster," he said. "But right now I'm only focusing on the task at hand."

Meanwhile, Lake Forest's offense gives opponents as much to think about as its defense.

"We spread the wealth around. Everybody can make plays," Clifford said. "I'm in the shotgun with Scott Powell at fullback and Hub Cirame at running back. It is a mixture of the spread and pro-style. Sometimes we're in the pistol and the shotgun and under center. Sometimes we are in an empty backfield or one or two backs. We give defenses a lot to think about."

"The biggest thing is they play well for each other," Spagnoli said. "They are unselfish. They care less who gets credit."

Even if they make six sacks in one game. Or was it seven?

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