There still was hope in the DeKalb locker room two weeks ago, when the Barbs were set to play Kaneland.
If they could just beat the Knights, the Barbs had a chance at the playoffs. They knew it was a longshot, but winning their final four games somehow didn’t seem out of the picture.
“Every single one of these kids in the locker room thinks we can beat Kaneland,” offensive lineman Jake Smith said.
But the Barbs lost, 66-23, that Friday, and the main driving force in any high school football season was gone.
In the only sport that doesn’t guarantee a playoff berth, DeKalb, along with five-loss teams Genoa-Kingston and Hiawatha, is left to find other motivational tools that will keep it focused for the last two weeks of the season.
DeKalb coach Todd Hallaron has found that keeping players engaged is crucial to finishing out the season on a high note. It’s easy for kids to drift off at this point in the year, so changing practice routines and keeping kids active is crucial.
“If you give them too much down time at this point of the year, they’re going to be scattered,” Hallaron said. “Just being different week to week to week helps keep them involved, and being involved makes them motivated. … No matter what our record is, we want them to learn the game.”
Genoa-Kingston has been on the outside of the playoffs looking in for two years now, but the feeling around the team has been different this year. The Cogs have seen a progression this season in a year when, if things had gone slightly differently, they could have qualified for the playoffs.
They want to make sure that continues.
“Even though we’re out of the playoffs, unlike last year, you can tell that the motivation is a lot better,” junior running back Sal Lopez said. “Last year, there was a lot of laziness, a lot of kids didn’t know if they wanted to play. … We’re going to be a lot better team, and hopefully we’ll make the playoffs next year.”
For DeKalb sophomore running back Dre Brown, who recently took an unofficial visit to the University of Illinois, these two weeks are a chance for him to add to his highlight reel, which is circulating through college recruiting circles.
“The first [goal] is just to try to get wins; the second is to just have fun with my teammates again; and third is for myself, just to try to get highlights and stats, I guess,” Brown said. “[The mood] is down because we weren’t expecting this. We were hoping for a playoff season. But everybody’s just happy to play football. Everybody cares about the team.”
Like a few of his teammates, DeKalb senior offensive lineman Joe Diedrich wants to play in college, but he doesn’t know where he’ll go.
Multiple Division II coaches are coming to scout him against Yorkville tonight on DeKalb’s senior night.
“A lot of them are coming out to the games now,” Diedrich said. “These are the last two games I get to play of high school football, and this is the last home game, so that’s our focus.”
But most seniors on DeKalb, G-K and Hiawatha will play their final football game next Friday. Those players are finding out that focus isn’t always easy to maintain when meaningful games aren’t coming.
After these last two games, Genoa-Kingston quarterback Adam Price will shift his focus to his baseball career, which he hopes to continue in college.
“For the most part, we’re able to stay focused, but in the back of our minds, we know that playoffs aren’t a possibility,” Price said. “I don’t want to end my football career on a bad note. I just want to go out there and play my best and get two wins.”