Faith in Football: DePaul Academy rules the 1910s

Faith in Football: DePaul Academy rules the 1910s

When eight members of Catholic high schools around the Chicagoland area got together in 1912, they had no idea that the football conference they put together would be going strong more than 100 years later.

The Chicago Catholic League has been the state's top football conference for more than a century.

That dominance was first started by DePaul Academy, a boys only school that won the first five league championships from 1913 to 1917.

Valentine Rock Grunderman led the way in those early years as the lead tailback for the Demons. The 11 touchdown runs he scored in 1916 is still an IHSA record, and he did it in the team's 156-0 win over St. Charles North.

The team played games in the decade at Weeghman Park (now Wrigley Field), Comiskey Park and even Fenway Park.

Check out their run to greatness in the video above, and check back all year long as we document the history of the conference with Faith in Football, History of the Chicago Catholic League, presented by Wintrust.

Lincoln-Way East dealt with adversity, kept things 'six inches in front of your face'

Lincoln-Way East dealt with adversity, kept things 'six inches in front of your face'

Rob Zvonar makes it a point whenever possible to share with his team his favorite phrase: “Keep things six inches in front of your face.” It’s simple and indistinct, allowing his group of more than 115 players to analyze and relate it however they choose. The phrase meant something different to each of the Lincoln-Way East Griffins, but all embraced it and used it as the foundation to overcome adverse circumstances and string together a successful season that Frankfort and the surrounding communities won’t soon forget.
Fifteen months before the Griffins walked off their home turf for the final time – in a 34-31 loss to Maine South last Friday – the 117 student-athletes listened, watched and read as news surfaced that District 210 had voted 5-2 to close Lincoln-Way North High School after just seven years. The controversial decision meant relocating thousands of students at the remaining three Lincoln-Way schools – East, Central and West – and, though comparatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things, meant a shakeup of each school’s football program.
Zvonar rallied his team – both returning East students and incoming North students – that winter, holding a January meeting to act as the jumping-off point for a season filled with state-title expectations. The group bonded almost instantly, and camps and practices in the summer ran smoothly as if the group had been together the last three years.
The Griffins stumbled in their two main tests in the regular season, losing a 14-0 lead at home to rival Homewood-Flossmoor and being pummeled by Bradley in Week 8. But both those teams went undefeated, and the Griffins were utterly dominant in their seven regular-season wins, outscoring their opponents 308-62, and were as dangerous a group in the stacked 8A playoffs as any other 7-2 team.
The bracket also set up ideally for the Griffins. A first-round matchup against Taft resulted in a 64-14 victory. Waubonsie Valley upset Hinsdale Central in Round 1 that allowed the Griffins to avoid the undefeated Red Devils. East made easy work of Waubonsie Valley in a convincing 35-13 victory. At the same time, Maine South upset Barrington in the second round, giving East a second consecutive home game in the state quarterfinals.
That back-and-forth affair Friday night saw three ties and four lead changes, as the Griffins rallied from down 14-0 to take a second-quarter lead, and twice in the second half matched Red Hawks scores. Maine South manufactured a two-minute offense late in the fourth quarter to set up a game-winning field goal, leaving the Griffins two wins shy of a trip to Champaign.
And though the end result was a bitter taste in their collective mouths, Illinois’ largest team in number accomplished plenty in 2016. While any coaching staff dreams of having the depth East had at its disposal, it took Zvonar and his staff’s ability to sorth through the myriad talent and find the best combination of 11 young men to put on the field.
It started at quarterback, where North transfer Jake Arthur took the reins at quarterback while fellow senior Max Shafer transitioned to wide receiver, his original position. Arthur threw for more than 1,700 yards and 18 touchdowns and added four scores on the ground. A wildly talented receiving corps saw four different players catch 17 or more balls, led by Nick Zelenika (64/685/6), Jeremy Nelson (55/879/10) and Ken Anderson (20/304/4), the last of whom was limited to seven games with an ankle injury.
The running backs spearheaded the offense, and did so with a dynamic three-man attack behind a bruising offensive line. Nigel Muhammad turned in a splendid senior campaign, rushing for 879 yards and a team-best 20 touchdowns on just 147 carries. Juniors Brendan Morrissey and Ryan Scianna combined for nearly 900 more yards and 12 touchdowns, and the team as a whole rushed for more than 2,300 yards and 45 scores.
Defensively, All-State defensive end Devin O’Rourke proved why he’s got multiple Big Ten offers, racking up 95 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and nine sacks. A dominant defensive line also included Kyle Julius, Zack Tencza and Brian Ravetto. Those four combined for 19 sacks and took plenty of pressure off an inexperienced secondary.
The names of talented East players go on, and that’s exactly the point. Depth is great; too much depth can become a disruption. But Zvonar made it clear to his players in that first meeting that sacrifice was necessary. Keeping the team’s collective goals six inches in front of their faces, not worrying about playing time, statistics or off-the-field controversy with the school’s closing, was paramount to the team’s success.
And by in large they were able to accomplish just that. None of what the Griffins accomplished would have been possible had the team not looked their main goal in the eye, six inches in front of them, and attacked it relentlessly each day.

Griffins take nothing lightly as they continue pursuit of state title

Griffins take nothing lightly as they continue pursuit of state title

A little more than two months ago Lincoln-Way East head coach Rob Zvonar stood in front of his group and made a declaration. The Griffins had just watched a two-touchdown lead against rival Homewood-Flossmoor wilt away on their home turf, and the group of 100+ student athletes was understandably upset. But a minor setback in early September wasn’t going to define a team with realistic expectations of arriving in Champaign Thanksgiving weekend, and their head coach let them know it.

“We’ve got a good enough group to be the best team in state and win a state championship,” Zvonar told his team in Week 4, “and to put rings on your finger.”

In that speech Zvonar also referenced reminded his team that faltering in Week 3 was far different than doing so in Week 11 and having to clean out your locker and turn in your pads. And two months after that message, Zvonar’s Griffins awaited their Round 2 matchup in the 8A playoffs against Waubonsie Valley, staring at a Week 11 matchup with a chance to make good on their early-season miscues.

And unlike they did early in the season, the Griffins started strong, finished stronger and proved they have the moxie to contend for and compete for a state championship. They put together what Zvonar called their strongest half of the year, and maintained that dominance in the second half on their way to a 35-13 victory over the Warriors.

“The kids were dialed in,” Zvonar said. “They wanted to make a statement that we could play with one of the better teams in state. To have this kind of performance against a great team was what this program needed at this point in the year.”

No one, and certainly not the Griffins, doubted the talent the Warriors had on paper entering the second round. Though just 5-4, the Warriors had played a difficult schedule and won a Week 9 contest against Wheaton North to even qualify for the 8A playoffs. They proved their legitimacy with a Round 1 road victory over previously undefeated Hinsdale Central, ranked No. 5 in CSN’s preps power rankings entering the postseason.

“(We) went in thinking they were an undefeated team,” said running back Nigel Muhammad, who rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown. “They definitely showed last week hat they can beat an undefeated team, so we came into the game expecting them to be better than (their record).”

In that first-round game wideout Charles Robinson tallied four touchdown receptions. But in Round 2, against a motivated Griffins defense, Robinson was limited to a single catch, which came in the first quarter. The East defense made yet another statement, allowing just a single score until late in the fourth quarter, shutting down a Warriors offense which had posted 33 points seven days prior.

The offense took care of the rest, with Jake Arthur leading five touchdown drives – four of which ended in rushing scores – and compiling nearly 400 yards of offense in the victory. Knowing the Warriors played much of their talent both ways, the offense played its quickest pace of the year, routinely going no-huddle to keep the Warriors defense on its heels.

It paid off, as Joel Pallisard’s offense rushed for 269 yards. Arthur’s passes were short yet effective, as he competed 16 passes to five different receivers, including a 14-yard TD pass to Max Shafer, who made a circus catch in the back of the end zone to extend the lead to 28-6 before halftime.

The win placed the Griffins now two games away from that elusive trip to Champaign. A matchup Saturday evening against Maine South awaits, and Zvonar will make his group maintains that same level of intensity as they push toward their season-long goals.

“We know our kids aren’t satisfied,” he said. “And Maine South is going to bring a ton down here, but we’ll prepare like we did last week, take it one day at a time, get after it, and we trust our kids and hopefully we’ll play well.”