It was the fall of 1992, and frankly, the Lake Forest High School football team's option offense was making a mockery of the rugged North Suburban Conference.
At the controls of this complicated offense was quarterback Josh Lerner.
"By my senior year we could run the offense in our sleep,'' Lerner said. "As an offense we were on the same page, and the playbook I created as a freshman, which I still had, I knew backwards and forwards. I knew the assignment of every player on every play, so I could get us into a better play based on the front and technique the defensive line was playing."
Even though it's going on 20 years ago, Lerner won't soon forget the Scouts magical 1992 football season. He could look behind him to see speedy backs Jason Klapper, Nick Boeder and Kevan Comstock. And the option was driving opponents nuts.
"I think more than anything what made him a great quarterback was that he was very instinctive,'' Comstock said. "He made great decisions. He was also a student of the game. I knew at the time that if anyone from our team would end up coaching one day, it was Josh."
"He had the physical tools as well. He had good size, decent speed and arm strength, but the intangibles really set him apart. He was also a natural leader, someone that everyone liked and respected," Comstock added.
Success Takes Shape
Lake Forest won three straight games to open the season. And the Scouts dominated those contests.
"Our starting defense hadn’t been scored on,'' Lerner said. "And we were averaging 35 points a game on offense, but the papers were saying, while our numbers were impressive, we hadn’t played anyone yet."
It was Week 4 and state-ranked Zion-Benton was the foe. Lake Forest prevailed 28-0. Next up was Libertyville. Those Wildcats went down 41-0. It was clear something special was happening at Lake Forest.
And head coach Tom Myers was perfectly at ease handing the controls of this offense to Lerner.
"He took the option to the next level,’’ Myers said. "We allowed him to progress. He was allowed to call the play in the huddle. I had confidence in him. He was also a leader in basketball. He was a really solid young man.”
Turning Doubters into Believers
The impressive 41-14 win over a strong Stevenson club was an eye-opener. To finish with an unbeaten mark in the NSC, the Scouts would have to top Warren.
"We were in the same position the year before and lost to Warren to share the NSC title,'' Lerner said. "We were determined not to share it with anyone our senior year. The Warren game stands out for that reason. Fall day, on Lindenmeyer, packed house, playing for a conference championship."
It wasn't a romp. Lerner went to the air to fire two touchdown passes. Klapper scored late in the 35-27 win. Lake Forest (9-0) had run the table in the conference.
As the story goes, Lake Forest did not win a state title. There was that first-round win over Deerfield (27-7). The next win came over Rockford Guilford (49-33). The Scouts' 11-game winning streak ended when the eventual state champion, Wheaton Warrenville South, edged Lake Forest, 24-20, in the Class 5A State quarterfinals.
"We were crushed,'' Lerner said. "We felt like we had a legitimate shot to win State, but the worst part was we knew we would never play together again. Keep in mind no one moved up in the early years. We were playing with guys we had been playing with for four years, and we had also developed a great bond with the juniors and we didn’t want that to end."
Started With Soccer
Lerner's sports career actually began when he spotted a young lady.
"My mom asked me if I wanted to play soccer as part of an after school program at Everett school,'' Lerner said. "I had no interest. A few days later my teacher read off the names of the kids who had signed up for soccer. One of them was a girl by the name of Julie Chantler, who I had a crush on. I immediately went home and told my mom I wanted to sign up for soccer. That was the first organized sport I played."
By the time Lerner arrived at Lake Forest High School, he was playing three sports. In addition to football, there was basketball in the winter and volleyball in the spring.
"The one big thing that stands out was we won conference in football, basketball and baseball my senior year. We also won conference in a number of other sports. I think you could argue the class of 1993 at Lake Forest was the best athletic class the school has had," Lerner said.
Nothing Beat Being the Quarterback
Lerner would head to Southern Methodist University for his schooling and played in 10 games as a junior at wide receiver.
However, it's clear his glory days were those times when he was running the option offense at Lake Forest.
"He would stand next to me and listen to our conversations,'' Myers said. "Josh was listening the whole time. He really learned from that. He really wanted to be the quarterback."
Lerner returned to Lake Forest and coached in the Scouts program for 11 seasons. He is now employed as a wealth management advisor at Northwestern Mutual. He and his wife Kelly have two young boys, Elias and Paxson, and live in Chicago.