What was the secret to Bolingbrook's sprint to the Class 8A championship? Aaron Bailey? Overall team quickness? Superior depth? More good players than anyone else? Experienced coaching staff? Luck?
None of the above.
Coach John Ivlow credits his team's success to...peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
"Our philosophy is to keep it simple," he said. "We don't buy into supplement stuff. Our team meal is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Before the state championship game, we made them in the hallway at Urbana High School. That's our pre-game thing.
"We also push whole milk and granola bars. Our unofficial philosophy is: You can't win with fat guys. Our kids are stronger and quicker. Quickness comes from strength. Our kids lift weights. We always have quickness in our favor. We want our kids playing and reacting, not thinking."
Coming off a 5-5 season, Bolingbrook wasn't rated among the top 25 teams in the Chicago area in the preseason. "I wouldn't have rated us, either. But if you did your homework, you would have seen that we had 18 starters back from a playoff team. I always look at teams that have a lot of returning starters. They are the dangerous ones, the ones to look out for," Ivlow said.
So what about next season? No one will overlook Bolingbrook in 2012, not with Bailey and seven other offensive starters returning.
"Next year we will be better offensively," Ivlow said. "And we had a freshman lineman on the varsity, James Jacobsen, a 6-foot-1, 300-pounder, who will be as good as (Illinois-bound) Robert Bain. He is a mauler like Bain. He has great potential."
Bailey is excited, too. One of the leading prospects in the class of 2013, he hopes to come back for his final season as a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder who bench-presses 300 pounds, squats 300 to 400 and shows marked improvement in his passing skills after working out in the off-season with quarterback guru Jeff Christensen. It is a scary proposition.
"I want to get bigger, faster and stronger. I can be a lot better," Bailey said. "I want to be a quarterback in college or a receiver, not a running back or defensive back. If a team needs a quarterback, I'll be a quarterback. But I'll be a receiver if they want one."
In the meantime, he plans to take a month off "to get my body back together." Then he will join the baseball team. But he also will devise a plan to provide time for football workouts.
"There is no pressure to repeat," Bailey said. "We're not trying to impress anyone. We just want to play our game and don't worry about what others say. We have to stay humble and not let (the state title) get to our head, not worry about the hoopla.
"I trust in God. All things are possible. This season wasn't a surprise. We had a lot of chemistry going in. We were dedicated in the weight room. We knew it was going to be a special season. There was something special about this team. Everyone wanted to win. We were tired of going to the playoff and being satisfied with winning a game or two."
Ivlow's job is easier when it comes to coaching Bailey. "You don't coach Bailey. You put him in a system that he will succeed in. He is a runner who can throw. He is a better thrower than people give him credit for. But the option is the first thing that comes to mind," Ivlow said.
"We just find ways to get him free. We have five or six different options. Sooner or later, it will break, like a chess game. Right now, 70 percent of the schools that are recruiting him want him as an athlete. The other 30 percent want him as a quarterback. What would I do? I'd put him at quarterback running my show in some type of option offense, a shotgun like Northwestern runs."
Ivlow, 41, prides himself as an offense-minded football coach. He learned from his father, who coached at Plainfield for 30 years. He played in the NFL for three years -- he was a fullback on the 1993 Chicago Bears and earned a Super Bowl ring with the San Francisco 49ers -- and credits his knowledge of the game to former East Leyden product Mike Shanahan, who coached him at San Francisco and Denver.
"In the NFL, you have tests," he said. "You sit in countless hours of meetings. They quiz you on every position, how to block every front. We have a lot of knowledge here. We're not cocky; we're confident. People make things too hard. We stress simplicity. Our motto is: 'Less is more.' We don't have to run the West Coast offense. Our job is to put kids in position to make plays."
A Plainfield graduate of 1988, Ivlow played football at Northwestern for two years, then played for three years at Colorado State. After his NFL career ended, he took five years off. He didn't even watch a game. Looking for a job, he became a policeman. That was 15 years ago.
Slowly but surely, he began to get back into football. He attended Bolingbrook practices. Coach Phil Acton, who was closing out a successful 24-year career, added him to his staff. After one year, Acton retired and Ivlow was hired to succeed him. Nobody was more surprised than Ivlow.
"I was thrown to the wolves," he said. "A lot of people turned the job down rather than take a pay cut. I was surprised to get the job...no experience, only one year on the staff."
But he got a lot of help from staff holdovers, including defensive coordinator Bob Corra, offensive line coach Joe Murnick, defensive line coach Greg Pluth and offensive coordinator Matt Monken. All of them have been with Ivlow since 2002. Former Bolingbrook, Michigan and NFL player Todd Howard has coached the defensive backs for the last five years.
Ten years ago, about the time he was taking over Acton's program, Ivlow became the school resource officer at Bolingbrook High School. He runs a police station within the school. He is one of two officers on duty. Since the Columbine tragedy in Colorado, every high school in the country has at least one policeman in the hallway at all times.
Like Bailey and his teammates, Ivlow and his assistant coaches are still reliving the joys of winning a state championship...before they begin preparing to win another one.
"People wonder how we accumulated all of that quickness on one team," Ivlow said. "They don't get it. There are only a few ways to get fast. You're either born with it or you learn to improve your stride length or your consistency. No matter what, you have to spend a lot of time getting stronger. More than any other exercise, you have to improve your leg strength. You have to pound the iron."
And eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.