Most state championship teams feature at least one high profile player who is a Division I recruit or has All-State credentials...like Aaron Bailey, Jason Westerkamp, Matt Alviti, Matt Perez, Reilly O'Toole, John Dergo, Ryan Clifford, Jon Beutjer or Dave Schwabe.
Lake Zurich hopes to be an exception.
"We have a lot of good high school players," coach Dave Proffitt said. "We don't have a marquee player like Jack Lynn (last year's All-State linebacker who went to Minnesota).
"The word 'team' explains what Lake Zurich is all about this year. We have kids who are willing to make sacrifices for the good of the team like changing positions or play on the scout team to get the starters ready. We have 60 kids on the same page, trying to make each other better."
Lake Zurich (10-2) is riding high after upsetting two-time defending state champion Rockford Boylan 21-6 in the quarterfinals, snapping the Titans' 39-game winning streak. The Bears have allowed only 63 points, only 12 in three playoff games.
But the road to Champaign doesn't get any easier. Lake Zurich will face an even tougher test at 1 p.m. Saturday against top-seeded Glenbard West (12-0) in Glen Ellyn. It marks the third time in four years that the two schools have met in the semifinals of the Class 7A playoff.
"We have to do what we do best," Proffitt said. "Trickery at this level? Forget it. We have to run the ball, not turn it over and our kicking game has to be top-notch. We have to be able to get them off the field on third down consistently."
Proffitt said Lake Zurich has two things going for it.
"In the last four or five weeks our offense has controlled the ball and the clock. And our defense has been able to get opponents off the field on third down," the first-year coach said.
The Bears' 3-3-5 defense has been led by 6-foot-1, 225-pound junior linebacker Colton Moskal and 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior free safety Grant Soucy. Moskal is the team's leading tackler, a two-year starter. Soucy started at cornerback as a sophomore and junior and also starts at wide receiver.
Proffitt has run the 3-3-5 for seven years, including two at Cary-Grove. But he likes it for different reasons. Most coaches employ the 3-3-5 to counter spread offenses. Proffitt uses it because he doesn't have to rely on big players but smaller, quicker and more athletic players.
"I believe the 3-3-5 can give running teams as much difficulty if you scheme it right as the conventional 3-4 or 4-3. It's like having your strength up the middle on a baseball team with the catcher and shortstop and center fielder."
Moskal describes Lake Zurich's success--the Bears won a state title in 2007 and were second in 2006 and 2010 under former coach Bryan Stortz--as "a bunch of guys buying into a system and playing as one unit, all 11 on defense flying to the ball and trying to make plays."
All 11 flying to the ball? "It's all having your own responsibility and doing your job, trusting that everyone else will do their job. No one thinks about individual glory. It doesn't make a difference who makes the play as long as we get it done," Moskal said.
"Our edge is hard-nosed Lake Zurich football. We want to carry on the winning tradition. If one guy goes down, another has to step up and make plays. We have a lot of returnees. We know what a playoff atmosphere is all about. We know every game will be a dogfight."
Soucy is one of seven senior captains. That's right, seven: "We never had that before. We had an intense interview process. We had to write essays. We talked to the other players and they voted. It came down to seven, each with different styles, all contributing to the success of the team. "
The other captains are defensive linemen Jack Sweeney and Rocky Triggiano, strong safety Robert Rossdeutcher, fullback Connor Schrader, slotback Jake Stauner and offensive lineman Jerry Bauer.
"We are very selfless. We always want to play our best for each other and for others who were in the program in past years," Soucy said. "The program is about family. We spend so much time together. We are a second family to everyone. We're all willing to do anything to help each other, even outside of football. We form bonds during practice and in the off-season. We do everything as a team, not as individuals."
On the field, nobody thinks about newspaper headlines or video on YouTube or High School Lites or High School Cube. It's all about T-E-A-M.
"All those special players, the Division I prospect, have statistics and numbers," Soucy said. "But anyone can win on given day. If we go 100 percent and hold nothing back for four quarters, we can outplay any team.
"It's something unique in football. Some teams may have pure talent but if they don't go 100 percent for all four quarters, they won't get the end result they want. In the Lake Zurich program, you want are exhausted on one play and then want to come back and fight as hard as you can. You don't want to let your teammates down."