If Grant didn't have bad luck, it wouldn't have any luck at all. The Fox Lake school is 8-2 going into Friday night's game at Crystal Lake Central in the second round of the Class 6A playoff despite a laundry list of injuries and setbacks that had coach Kurt Rous shaking his head in disbelief.
On the Thursday before the season opener, senior wide receiverdefensive back Keion Miller had the entire team at his house for a spaghetti dinner. The deck on the patio collapsed. Eleven players were standing on it at the time. Fortunately, no one was injured. But it was an omen of things to come.
"Later, people joked that if a fallen patio can't stop us, who can? We went through a lot of adversity, a lot of injuries, and we're still having one of the best seasons in school history," Miller said.
Two players who rushed for over 1,000 yards a year ago have been sidelined with injuries for the last four weeks. And two defensive backs are recovering from injuries.
Last Friday, in a 59-0 rout of Lake View, Rous started 5-foot-5, 140-pound junior Jason Bach at quarterback, a fourth-stringer who never had started a game at any level and certainly wasn't expected to start a playoff game.
Rous said his team is winning--the Bulldogs have lost only to highly rated Lakes and Stevenson--because he is using a committee of running backs (sophomore Jeremy Bredwood came up to the varsity last Friday and rushed for four touchdowns) and smoking mirrors.
The mainstays are Miller, 6-foot-3, 275-pound senior tackle Dan Haeffele, 6-foot, 250-pound senior guard Luis Echeverria, 5-foot-11, 230-pound senior center Jared Lalanda, 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior tackle Tyler Reynolds, 5-foot-8, 180-pound senior linebacker Dan King and 5-foot-10, 210-pound junior defensive tackle Francisco Uribe.
"Our offensive line has picked us up. We rushed for over 400 yards last Friday," Rous said. "And our very young defense is playing well, too. If we can control the ball, keep our offense on the field and the opponent's offense on the sideline, fly around on defense and rally around the ball and eliminate big plays, we can be successful."
That's a lot to ask of any team, of course, but Miller, who caught a 75-yard touchdown pass from Bach on Grant's only pass of the game to set the tone in last Friday's game, isn't awestruck by the challenge.
"The kids stepped up and filled the void," said Miller, a three-year starter who has experienced more than a few ups and downs. "This is the best of the three teams I've played on. It's all about the way we work together.
"Do your 1-11, the coaches say. If everybody does his own job, we can get the job done. I like how close we all are. We all pick up each other. Everybody works hard in practice every day. We hope accomplish some things that no other team at our school has ever done."
Miller has high expectations for himself. He wants to be a doctor. He ranks No. 65 in a class of 465 and plans to study radiology or anesthesiology at a school in Florida. He has applied to Florida, Central Florida, Miami and Florida State. He also plans to walk on and try to earn a spot on the football team.
He has been playing football since fourth grade, since he began playing for the Fox Lake Cardinals. In his Valley Lakes neighborhood, everybody played football. They played games in their front yards. His friends said he had size and speed so Miller decided to try out for football.
"I couldn't stop playing," he said. "I didn't know anything about the sport. My older brother played basketball. Another brother didn't play much. I was too young. I didn't know how to play. At first, I was scared to get hit. But when I started to play, I instantly loved it.
"What sold me was I liked how intense it got. You can hit people and not get in trouble. You can let a lot of anger out. I loved how pumped up you get for games. There is nothing else like it, especially when you win. But you have to work hard to win in football."