Football teams that play this deep into November have all encountered low temperatures, snow and less than ideal field conditions. More so than in past years, however, this fall’s weather has felt like a bigger nuisance.
“In the 25 years I’ve been coaching high school football, I can never remember the weather being this bad,” Prairie Ridge coach Chris Schremp said. “We’ve had snow on the ground, but we didn’t have to shovel it and snow blow it just to play. Other than the Montini game (Class 6A semifinal meeting in 2015), that was really the only other time where we had a real issue with the snow.”
Schremp spent a big chunk of Monday figuring out when and where his team will practice as the Wolves (10-1) prepare for Saturday’s Class 6A quarterfinal against Cary-Grove (9-2), scheduled for 1 p.m. at Prairie Ridge.
Richmond-Burton (11-0), which hosts IC Catholic (10-1) at 3 p.m. Saturday in Class 4A, is in a similar spot. Prairie Ridge and R-B are both playing on their home fields for a fourth consecutive week.
Once fields have been cleared of the snow, it’s mostly been a muddy mess, leading to slippery tracks and mud-caked cleats and jerseys.
“I would say the worst thing with the snow has been the mud,” Schremp said. “It feels like we’ve been practicing in mud for two months, with the rain and the snow that we’ve had. Unfortunately, our fields don’t drain really well.”
Monday’s snow prevented all three teams from getting outside.
“We practiced in the gym and cafeteria for about an hour,” C-G coach Brad Seaburg said. “Just getting gym space in our school is very difficult, because it was the first days of boys basketball, the first day of wrestling, and cheerleading and girls basketball had practice. We only have the two gyms, and it takes a lot of work to coordinate all the moving parts that go along with that.”
Not knowing how the rest of the week would play out, Schremp and Seaburg scheduled practice inside at the MAC Sports Center in Crystal Lake, which has two field turfs. They later had to recoordinate dates and times when they found out they were both scheduled to be there at the same time.
“We didn’t think that would work out too well,” Schremp said.
R-B coach Mike Noll isn’t sure when his team will get outside again. Temperatures Tuesday brought record-breaking cold.
“If it’s so cold, you can’t get things done,” Noll said Monday evening. “But Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, we plan on getting out in it. You have to practice in it. Last year, we practiced in the snow. Last week, we had great practices outside. The field was a lot like what we played on – wet, sloppy and cold – but we got things done.”
On the field, Prairie Ridge, C-G and R-B have not been slowed by the conditions.
Even so, all three teams have had to adapt to the one element they can’t control: the weather.
“I think we try to block it out as much we can,” Seaburg said. “Just understand that we’ve got a job to do, and there’s nothing we can do about the weather. You have to win over the minds of your players so they’re in the right mindset, so they’re thinking about what they need to do and not, ‘I’m cold,’ or ‘I’m not getting good footing,’ or whatever it might be. I think that’s probably the biggest thing, winning over the minds of the players.”
Play-calling can be impacted by poor field conditions, Schremp said.
“I think it depends on the level of it,” Schremp said. “Against Grayslake North [on Nov. 2], there were some areas on the field where you knew it was pretty sloppy, so you run a play away from the mud and not through it. You might call some more wide perimeter plays in those circumstances.
“You do have to take those things into account when you’re playing in really bad weather.”
Seaburg said C-G’s field has been in great shape throughout the playoffs, despite the weather. The biggest challenge has been getting it ready after snow.
C-G players joined coaches and faculty members to help clear the field of snow on Halloween ahead of the team’s first-round game against St. Ignatius. The Trojans practiced that night until about 5 p.m., Seaburg said, and then shoveled the field until 8 p.m. to make sure the field was ready to go Saturday.
Trojans players feel ready no matter the circumstances.
“We always feel going into a game if there is some sort of adversity weatherwise, we feel like we handle adversity the best,” C-G senior fullback-linebacker Blake Skol said. “Cold weather, snow, we can’t control any of that. We kind of ignore it to the best of our abilities and tackle it head on.”
Prairie Ridge senior quarterback Connor Lydon looked at Monday’s snowout in a positive light.
“I think having the extended time [inside] is beneficial,” Lydon said. “You can really ingrain and see on film what you’re trying to get after. Sitting next to my offensive coordinator [Joe Terhaar] for a little over two hours, going over what we need to, I think that’s really helpful for me personally.”
Weather can certainly complicate matters, but, at this point of the season, it’s not the biggest concern, Seaburg said.
“The kids are so focused right now on trying to win in the quarterfinals,” Seaburg said. “Their focus is solely on beating Prairie Ridge, that’s it. The weather element, things like that, that’s really an exterior thing.”
“At the end of the day, everyone has to play in it,” Schremp said. “You just have to gut it out.”