When you walk into the weight room at , one sign on the wall stands out.
It reads “Champs 2011,” a permanent symbol to the Scouts football conference title from one season ago.
Now, more than nine months later, many of the players from that team have graduated. The standard set by that class is not forgotten by the 2012 Scouts, who hope hang their own banner this season.
“That’s what the class last year taught us,” quarterback said. “They basically made winning the conference the standard and living up to that; win conference, make the playoffs and make a long run in the playoffs.”
Last year was a transformative season for Lake Forest football. A conference championship, the school’s first since 1996. Its playoff appearance was the school’s fifth in six years, the Scouts best streak since a seven-out-of-eight year stretch from 1989-1996.
Scouts Must Meet Elevated Expectations
The question now becomes can the program keep up with elevated expectations?
“We expect to be better than last year. That’s our goal,” said. “For us to do that we have to advance in the playoffs to win the state championship.” Spagnoli is now in his tenth season. “If we don’t advance past the second round that’s never going to happen. That’s our goal, that’s where we are, nothing less than that.”
If you judge on paper, Lake Forest will have to do more with less this fall. Gone on offense are quarterback Jordan Beck, all-conference running back Owen Williams (1,206 yards, 20 touchdowns in 2011) and Michigan recruit Bo Dever, along with the entire receiving corps.
Replacing Beck will be Clifford, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound pocket passer, who possesses a more accurate arm and completely different skill set from the speedy, run-first Beck.
Expect a more diverse offense from the Scouts in 2012, with more hands touching the football. Junior Hub Cirame (188 yards, two touchdowns in 2011) and senior Scott Powell will share reps in the backfield. Seniors Brian Murphy and Jack Troller are expected to be Clifford’s main targets at receiver. Combined, they caught just two passes in 2011.
“Last year, we leaned heavily on Owen,” said Spagnoli of Williams, who accounted for 37 percent of the team’s total offense in 2011. “This year we need to be balanced and not dependent on one or two people. We have some skilled players. We’ll be deeper at the receiver position and more skilled, although we won’t be more experienced.”
New Players on Offensive Line
Lake Forest will have to replace almost its entire offensive line. Center Peter Durot is the only returning starter. Senior Jack Ellis and junior Spencer Bleecker are expected to step in and have significant roles.
On the other side of the ball, the Scouts lose seven players off a defense that allowed just 15 points per game in 2011. All-conference linebacker Brandt Pfeifer has graduated, along with second-leading tackler Nick Keefe and the entire secondary of Ben Warren, Phil Sheridan and Tim Wilson.
Back is the team’s leading tackler, (37.5 tackles, three sacks in 2011).
Now at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Tom Kutschke is two inches taller and 30 pounds heavier from last season and is ready to lead the defense.
“We are going to have the same amount of swagger and make a lot of plays,” said Kutschke. “We’re probably going to get a new personality. We’ll be very good.”
Will Defense Again be Sharks?
Whether they take on the “sharks” identity of the 2011 defense or develop their own motto remains to be seen. Much will depend on the development of players such as senior defensive backs Tom Doherty, David Glynn and Alex Moore. Lineman Rich Daniels returns along with junior linebacker Trent Williams.
Kicker Baylor Broughton also returns, and is expected to play a key role. Broughton was 3-for-4 in kicks 40 yards or more in 2011, with a long of 46.
Last season, Lake Forest defeated three traditional North Suburban Conference powers: Stevenson, Libertyville and Warren. If they are to sweep those three again, along with Lake Zurich, they will do so with a youthful roster, possessing just 15 seniors.
They are all expected to contribute with hopes of leaving their own winning footprint. “They’ve been the big four for a long time and Lake Forest is edging our way in to make it the big five,” Clifford said.
“If you are good, people are going to put a target on you,” Spagnoli said. “I hope the target keeps getting bigger. We talk to our guys every day about being champions. There’s a lot of responsibility with it and a lot invested to get it to that point.”