Grayslake Central junior middle linebacker Matty Jens knows the more physical team often wins on Friday nights.
That was the case again in the Rams’ 24-14 victory against Geneseo last week. Mike Maloney called it the most physical effort he’s seen from the Rams in his three-plus seasons as Grayslake Central‘s coach.
“All week long, the coaches are always on us to be more physical,” Jens said. “There have been times where we haven’t done that, so we have to keep each other accountable.”
Jens had 1 ½ sacks and recovered a fumble for the Rams (2-0), and the type of hard-nosed game it turned out to be is definitely Jens’ preference.
He said he particularly enjoyed seeing Geneseo players become deflated as the game progressed.
“I love playing linebacker, and the hitting is the best part,” Jens said. “I love setting the tone and making it known that I’m coming to smash you.”
Maloney said senior defensive back Jeremiah Almendarez-Poyser helped set that tone. Almendarez-Poyser also had a clutch interception late in the game.
“That was a really big play,” he said. “I trusted in my backpedal, read the quarterback’s eyes right away and made a break on the ball.”
Almendarez-Poyser and Jens share the same mentality.
“That’s the biggest reason I play football,” Almendarez-Poyser said. “You can go out and hit people without getting into trouble.”
Super Snider: There are quick learners, and then there’s Ben Snider.
Over the course of a few short weeks, the Stevenson senior has gone from football newcomer to standout.
Even the most optimistic observer, or Snider himself, wouldn’t have imagined that an eight-day span to begin the season would include 12 catches, three touchdowns and, in a 35-7 win against New Trier, a school-record 236 receiving yards.
“It’s really been an amazing story,” Stevenson coach Brent Becker said. “We told him that as long as he could run, jump and catch, that we would teach him the rest.”
That inventory of knowledge had to include everything because the closest Snider had come to playing football was intramural competition as a freshman.
Snider, who plays baseball for the Patriots, said he’s not a “football guy.” He watches the Super Bowl. That’s about it.
“My friends and some of the PE teachers were nudging me to play, so I figured I’d give it a shot,” he said. “When camp started, I really started to enjoy it. The atmosphere was great, and it became a new community to me.”
What struck Snider is how everyone involved is pulling together for the common good. His unease about not knowing the playbook and many of the nuances of the sport were allayed by asking for help, receiving instruction and trusting his athleticism.
He still had to gain the buy-in of his mother, Connie.
“I was a little hesitant, too, because it’s the first time I’ve played a contact sport,” Snider said. “Memorizing the routes was a big thing for me at first. But once I got to the point of being comfortable, I was calm and collected, and I knew the coaches trusted in me.”
They were right to do so. Snider made six catches for 120 yards in the Patriots’ opener and had six more catches and three touchdowns against New Trier. The previous record for receiving yards was eclipsed by 23 yards.
“That was pretty surreal,” Snider said. “A lot of balls have come my way, but I’m the last person who has to do his job perfectly. I still think that’s super cool.”
Tidbits: Despite their teams’ losses in Week 2, Lake Zurich senior Cal Grabowski and Antioch sophomore Martin Cohen came up big. Grabowski had 12 tackles against St. Charles North, and Cohen returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown against Morris. Cohen also rushed for 106 yards in Antioch’s opener. … Wauconda junior running back Connor Vanselow had 157 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries in a win against Riverside-Brookfield.
Steve Reaven is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.