Central Football Scouts the Post-Season

As Central Football prepares for their historic second playoff berth, current players and coaches share their insights into the team.

Daniel Laubhan, Sports & Design Editor

On an oddly warm Lake Villa evening, Grayslake Central faces off against the Lakes Eagles. Grayslake Central, with a record of 5-3, and Lakes, with a record of 4-4, know that whoever wins this game moves on to the playoffs, and whoever loses will have their season ended.

As the game starts to come to a close, the score remains 39-32 Lakes. 

Despite this, late in the fourth quarter, Kaiden Miller runs the ball in for a 36-yard passing touchdown from Cole Gillette, complimented by a two-point conversion, making the score 40-39 Central.

The play truly was symbolic of the transformation of Grayslake Central’s football culture. Ever since the 2019 season, when Mike Maloney was named Grayslake Central’s new head coach, the program has undergone a complete transformation, going from a team that had a collective record of 6-40 in their prior five seasons, to a 2021 team that qualified for playoffs for the first time in 10 years, won a playoff game for the first time in 11 years, hosted a playoff game for the first time in recent memory, and sent four players to NCAA DII/DIII schools, and one to an NAIA school.

Maloney, a former Big 10 player at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, was able to provide a fresh perspective to the team and it has paid off. “Our production offensively is up compared to previous years, defense we’re still doing some problem-solving,” Maloney explained. “Our special teams have been exceptional this year as far as our return game, our ability to contain our opponents and their opponent receivers, so I think of the three phases, we’re seeing a lot of improvement from year to year.”

Indeed, offensively the team has been a powerhouse, scoring a total of 328 points this season so far. Quarterback Cole Gillette, new to the starting role as a junior, has proven himself on the field on a repeated basis, throwing countless touchdowns and first-downs, and has had success running the ball as well. Even though many of the team’s major playmakers are seniors, Maloney remains optimistic about the program’s future. 

“Our younger underclassmen that are returning are gonna have some big shoes to fill… so just having a sense of purpose and understanding [of] why they’re doing what they’re doing during the off-season, [and] that the entire program and the community’s counting on them to be at their absolute best… in order for us to take that next level of being a state-wide contender on a consistent basis,” Maloney added.

“Communication for sure is a weakness right now, it was good at the beginning of the season for us and towards the middle, but I feel like it’s going away a little bit,” Miller explained. “A strength [of the team] is the bond everyone on the team has, I think everyone on the team is really close, so it makes it easier to play as a team.”

Miller remains grateful for the relationships he’s developed with the other players around him, and the sense of community and camaraderie that the football team has built. 

“I think one thing I’ve learned is not to take anything for granted because with this group of guys, you get so close and… that last game, it’s just gonna be the most painful day of my life.”

Even though many of these seniors are looking forward to going out with a bang this final season, many are still keeping their eyes peeled for what lies ahead in college. 

As Miller described, “I’ve been visiting a lot of colleges, but I haven’t made my decision on where I want to go yet.”