I'll admit it: At the end of the day this was George Czart's award to lose.
Czart, the head coach of Lincoln-Way North, has been named the 2015 EDGYTIM/Rivals.com Illinois High School Coach of the Year.
The Phoenix posted an 11-1 record, including a perfect 7-0 record in the Southwest Suburban Red (a conference that saw one team advance to the Class 5A final in Lincoln-Way West and another make it to the Class 7A semifinal in Bradley). Lincoln-Way North advanced to the quarterfinals for the second time in three seasons.
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But the biggest storyline statewide — from the start of the season — was the shocking announcement of the closing of Lincoln-Way North back on Aug. 13, three days into football practice and a few weeks away from the start of the regular season.
How in the world could the relatively new Lincoln-Way North suddenly close? The home of the Phoenix, which stands hovering along Harlem Avenue just south of I-80, looks more like a college campus than a high school. This is Lincoln-Way, the same Lincoln-Way that won award after award and all kinds of accolades and praise for how well they handled the district's sudden growth. How can this school district go from award-winning to shuttering a school in just a few short years? The entire Lincoln-Way North community still asks the same questions to this day. And even after the announcement was made, this all seems unreal — even to this day.
Even before the announcement that Lincoln-Way North was going to close its doors forever, Czart and his team were still trying to get past the demons of how the 2014 season ended. The Phoenix led Wheaton-Warrenville South, 10-7, in the 7A opening-round, and had the football with 1:30 left to play. Wheaton-South had no time outs. Czart and North decided to not take the victory formation, instead opting to run the football to kill the clock. North fumbled, Wheaton-South recovered and scored. It led to the eventual,17-10, overtime loss to the Tigers. Needless to say, Czart and his team heard about that loss during the offseason from an upset and irate LWN community.
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As the team approached the 2015 season, Lincoln-Way North had several built-in excuses and reasons to fold up the tents. From the way the 2014 season ended to the closing of the school after the 2015-2016 school year, the Phoenix could have easily just called it in and no one would have really blamed them.
However, Lincoln-Way North never folded the tents, never quit and never made any excuses.
The 2015 season didn't start off great for the Phoenix. They opened up the year against Richards and trailed, 23-2, at the half, only to rally to win 30-29. From the opening game to the final game in school history, North made a habit of coming from behind and finishing strong. And never quitting.
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Czart weathered the storm this season. He overcame the criticism from 2014, guided his team to an undefeated regular season and conference title, and instilled a never-say-die attitude, even in their final game in school history. With his own near-term future on the line, Czart and the Phoenix just dug in and went to work.
Sounds like a no-brainer as the coach of the year to me.