DeKALB – Much of the credit for changing the attitude of DeKalb football has gone to new coach Matt Weckler, but what’s often forgotten is that a winning mentality has been there all along.
Last year’s varsity team suffered through a 2-7 season, but the 2013 roster is full of juniors from last season’s successful sophomore team that went 8-1.
Running back Dre Brown and lineman Caleb DeWeese are the only juniors with varsity experience. The other 19 played just before them on Friday evenings, romping opponents while the sun still was out.
These players give DeKalb (1-0) a crucial mental edge that the returning varsity players can’t.
“They came in and brought a winning attitude that they had,” Weckler said.
To Weckler, that’s more important than varsity experience, because he brought in a completely new system this year that negates the advantages of experience. He said that with everyone adapting to his style, athleticism became more important than familiarity, and that’s something the juniors have been able to provide, particularly running back Eriq Torrey.
After earning a starting spot in the triple-option offense beside Brown and senior quarterback Jack Sauter, Torrey’s 65-yard run in the third quarter against Vernon Hills last week gave the Barbs the momentum that led to a 25-10 comeback win.
“His play was the one that ignited us offensively,” Weckler said. “He brings a little different dimension to us. He’s a physical runner and a physical blocker that can still catch the ball. At the halfback position, that’s an added plus.”
Brown certainly is happy to have Torrey beside him. The two combined for 232 yards rushing, and Torrey’s abilities take some of the pressure off Brown, who is generally the focal point of opposing scouting reports. Along with that, the chemistry they have is invaluable.
“We’ve been playing football since we were little, like 5 years old,” Brown said. “Now to see him busting carries for over 60 yards, it’s pretty cool.”
Torrey, who finished with 86 yards on seven carries, had plenty of reasons to talk about his own performance, but he deflected credit onto the defense. And why not? Because Vernon Hills scored its one touchdown off of a fumble recovery, the defense only allowed three points last week.
Torrey and Brown both said the linebacking corps was huge, and Jonathan Vega’s name was one of the first that came to mind. His play helped hold the Cougars to 173 yards of offense.
“We’re used to being around each other and playing together, so it does help when we’re out there,” Vega said. “We know what each other can do, and we’re confident in each other.”
That confidence has spread throughout the entire team, and it showed last Friday. Although Brown was an offensive threat without most of his classmates last year, the familiarity he has with this group might make him even better.
“Junior class, that’s my class,” Brown said. “Those are the guys I’ve been playing with since middle school and Pee Wee football.
“And they already know how to win.”
That’s what is key to the success of the Barbs this season, more than where they provide depth or size or speed. The junior class had success, and now Weckler wants it to follow the lead of the seniors.
With the juniors providing the winning attitude, the seniors and returning juniors can provide the know-how of what is needed to compete on the varsity level, Weckler said. If they can put that together, DeKalb could be on its way to success that hasn’t been seen in the program since a 9-2 record 24 years ago.
“We knew that we needed to show up this year and prove to everyone that DeKalb’s no joke,” Vega said. “Everyone’s been taking us as a joke, but they haven’t been paying attention to our class. Our mentality is to show them that DeKalb’s here to play this year.”