JOHNSBURG – Nick Brengman remembers what it felt like two years ago as a starry-eyed sophomore playing quarterback for Johnsburg’s varsity team.
So Brengman took it upon himself to aid several sophomores expected to play integral roles for the varsity Skyhawks this season. In addition to regular team workouts, Brengman invited backs and receivers to his house for voluntary workouts.
“I had plays on a white board, we were throwing routes, we had music playing,” said Brengman, who threw for 1,167 yards last season. “I did speed training with a lot of these guys, especially the underclassmen. I wanted to help them before they come to a varsity game and get blown away. A lot of us leaders have influenced the freshmen and sophomores to be more comfortable with us.”
There was a different outlook in Johnsburg for the first day of high school practices on Monday. The Skyhawks, 1-8 last season, return Brengman and several other starters for third-year coach Mike Maloney. That, along with their move to the Big Northern Conference East Division, has Johnsburg eager for the season.
Maloney told his players after Monday’s practice it was the “best and most organized Day 1” of his three years there.
“Moreso than the conference switch, our kids are more comfortable with each other than they were in the past,” Maloney said. “They understand how much each one of them is committed. The major thing is making sure that we trust and love each other up, and make sure we’re staying obedient to the guiding principles of our organization.”
Maloney wore a T-shirt with “F.A.M.I.L.Y.” on the back, which stands for “Forget about me, I love you.”
Johnsburg ended a 25-game losing streak last season and was competitive in many other games. The Skyhawks should be even more competitive in the BNC East, a better match in terms of enrollment than the Fox Valley Conference Fox Division.
“I love the effort and hustle we have out there, everybody’s moving with a purpose,” said junior John Conroy, who will start at center and noseguard. “It’s not as slow as it was, we all know what we’re doing out here. We’ve had a great offseason in the weightroom. It should be a lot of fun.”
Brengman completed 109 of 246 passes with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions last year. Receivers Haden Franzen and Bailey Stefka return, and newcomer Alex Peete, one of the sophomores, gives the Skyhawks what Maloney calls “our first true tailback since I’ve been here.”
“I feel like this year our main focus was work ethic,” Brengman said. “Everyone worked their butts off. They know this year is the year we have a chance to go to the playoffs and win the division. This year our team is closer than it’s been.”
Maloney appreciates the ownership Brengman and others have taken with the team.
“It’s important that our leadership takes accountability for the program,” Maloney said. “I tell them all the time it’s their team. If they take that initiative to organize workouts on their own, I’m all for that.
“The kids are not relieved [with a new conference], they’re excited, they’re eager to get going. They’re not cocky, it’s a matter that we believe we can compete. That belief, in itself, keeps them going.”