By John Ring
After an inaugural 0-9 season, after hearing the same negative things about Galesburg football, after countless hours of preparation and work, Coach Zac Chatterton and the Silver Streaks went on to post a 4-5 record this year.
Those four wins included three on the road and one that broke a 13-game losing streak to Rock Island. And for the first time in recent memory, the Silver Streaks were competitive in every single game. There were no blowouts, no laughers, no 59-0 scores. Not one.
And so if you think that Zac Chatterton is feeling pretty good, that would be a pretty good assumption. But that isnt the case. Far from it.
"Im still upset that were not playing, that we didnt make the playoffs," said Chatterton in his office last Monday afternoon. "We made a big step forward. We have a promising future. But we need to expect to make the playoffs in Galesburg."
Zac didnt make these comments in anger. Far from it. When he was named coach in the summer of 2003 after a lengthy search process yielded a first draft choice who quit after a visit to GHS, Chatterton didnt have many allies. He had no staff, little preparation time and a fan base that was apathetic at best.
Now, barely 18 months later, the Streaks coach has a 4-5 record in his second season, an assistant coaching staff thats stable and a strong foundation at the younger levels.
Chatterton spoke at length on Monday about the recently concluded season, one that featured a powerful one-two running punch in Kyle Thierry and Cole Marty, a surprisingly strong defense and two underclass teams that finished a combined 15-2 on the season.
Zephyr: I guess the biggest surprise of the season was your defense. Were you surprised at their level of play this year?
Chatterton: "Ive got to admit that I was. Coach [Jason] Robinson had them well prepared and they bought into the system that he wanted them to play. Jason coaches with a high level of emotion and it carried over on Fridays. Our defense kept us in every game. Our defense played tough when other parts of our game broke down. Our defense pitched a shutout in the opening game of the season. I know that Springfield Southeast was down this year but that was quite a statement for them."
Would you agree that the only thing that stopped the Streaks from making the playoffs was the lack of a productive passing game?
"We spent countless hours on the passing game last summer. We played in a lot of leagues. We traveled all over the place working on it. We went to Champaign. We went to Canton. We went all over and worked on it. The problem wasnt with [quarterback] Jeff [Allen] it was a combination of things. Our timing was never good, our line missed some blocks, teams rushed their defensive ends and that took the flat away from us. We just could never establish a passing game and that, in turn, put pressure on our running backs. So yes, that hurt us this season."
The big thing before the season was your revamping of the offensive line. How big did that pay off?
"It was good for us. Look, Pat Danielson took a lot of the brunt of what went wrong there the year before as a junior but he emerged as our leader. He played center for us, he played everywhere. But when you have two athletic, fast offensive guards [Jack Camper and Joe Young] leading two athletic, fast running backs [Thierry and Marty] you have a big edge. You can run sweeps, you open the field up. That was huge for us."
You said last year that you never wanted to have another team with just six seniors, like your first team had. Now youre graduating 18. How difficult is it going to be replacing them?
"First of all, its going to very hard for me, very emotional for me, to lose those guys. It would have been very easy for them, after we went 0-9, to say, This guy doesnt know what hes doing. But they didnt do that. Those seniors, they made a commitment to me and our football program. Theyre tough and they are loyal. That said, its going to be real hard to replace them. Were losing guys like Aaron Shepherd and Kyle Thierry, who have played varsity for three years. Were losing our offensive line. Were losing our quarterback, our running backs, a lot of guys."
What juniors stepped up for you this year? Who will you be looking at to emerge next season?
"My thinking is that leadership has to come from the seniors. Thats going to be the big thing for those guys next season. Ill be looking at players like David Anderson, who played in the defensive line this past year. Guys like Warren Crose. Mike Nichols had some good playing time for us. Well be looking at who will step up and lead for us this summer."
It would be tempting to promote some of the sophomores next year, especially after their undefeated freshman season. Have you and your staff sat down yet and discussed the makeup of your teams next season?
"My goal is to leave the sophmores alone. I think its best that way, for them to play at their own level. But thats not a line that cant be crossed. There may be a player or two we bring up, sort of like we did with Kyle and Aaron. Well sit down and discuss it and our goal will be to keep these kids working and active in our system."
Whats more satisfying the four wins or being competitive in every game?
"Thats a good question. I think that being competitive in every game gave some respect for our program. The wins were nice, especially the road win at Rock Island who is a conference power year in and year out. You have to hand it to them. But that win was good for us. It was big and so was being competitive in every game."
How special was it for you to see Coach Dennis Staggs and the freshmen team go undefeated with a win at Peoria last Friday?
"Dennis Staggs and I go way back. We went to Monmouth College together. Dennis has a drive that obviously carried over to his team. Hes never satisfied. I was happy for these kids to play under the lights at Peoria Stadium and win that game. It was very rewarding for them and a lot of fun for us. We have a quality coaching staff, from top to bottom. They know what they need to do."
Whats the non-conference schedule look like for 2005?
"The only change will be Streator. We open up against them and we signed just a one-year deal with them. The rest of the schools will be the same, the three from Peoria."
Compare last year, at this time after going 0-9, to now. Quite a bit easier isnt it?
"Absolutely. But its mostly because of the consistency. We have a great staff thats been here two years now. Were getting good support from the Administration. I cant say an ill word about anybody in the Administration. They all look to help our football program."