Friday, July 17, 2015

Who is Guerin Prep?

Imagine you're a high school football player and you have the opportunity to play for a coach who spent six years in the NFL. What's more, imagine that coach played for legendary Bears' coach Mike Ditka. That's what the Guerin Gators can look forward to this season under second-year head coach Glen Kozlowski, above.

Or, as former Chicago Bears defensive end Dan Hampton put it (my emphasis):

“When you play for Coach [Mike] Ditka, it’s hard not to value the traditions of hard work, discipline and toughness. That’s what Koz brings. Koz really enjoys taking the loose pieces and molding a team. You identify the players who are committed to excellence and build something lasting. He will bring the dedication and hard-hitting spirit to Guerin and it won’t be long before they’re a playoff team.”

So who the heck is Guerin Prep, anyway?

In 1961 Holy Cross High School, an all-boys Catholic school, was founded in River Grove, just west of the city. A year later, Mother Theodore Guerin High School for girls was established down the street.

Holy Cross opened its doors with 380 boys and reached a peak of about 1,500 students in 1968. As population growth in the area leveled off, however, so did enrollment at Holy Cross. In 2004 the two neighboring schools merged under the new name Guerin College Preparatory High School, above.

Today Guerin Prep, with an enrollment of about 500, "benefits from the combined rich histories of its founding schools, and continues to instill the same values in its students. The high school sits on 23 acres at the corner of 80th and Belmont in River Grove. Nearly 20,000 students from Northwest Chicago and the surrounding suburbs have graduated from the schools in the past 50 years."

Guerin is a member of the Metro Suburban East Conference and its colors are blue, green, silver and white. The school mascot is Gary the Gator.

While the football team has struggled in recent years, Holy Cross had a great tradition and counted among its alumni two NFL veterans: Jack Degrenier ’69, who played for the New Orleans Saints, and Garrett Wolfe ’02, of the home team Chicago Bears. In 42 years of play the Crusaders had two undefeated regular seasons and eight state playoff berths. (Coincidentally, during three of those years the team was coached by a 1983 alum by the name of Virgil Gerin. What are the odds?)

After the 2013 season, in which the Gators went 2-7, Glen Kozlowski was brought in as head coach to turn the program around and return it to its former glory. 

A native of Hawaii, Kozlowski was a standout wide receiver on the 1984 Brigham Young National Championship team and was drafted by the Bears in the 11th round in 1986. During his six seasons in the NFL Kozlowski excelled on special teams and at wide receiver.

In 2002, following his professional career, Kozlowski became the head football coach at Wauconda High School. In his first two seasons the Bulldogs went 0-9, but Coach Koz eventually took the Lake County squad to the 5A quarterfinals in 2007. He then built on this success by doing the same with the 4A Warhawks of North Chicago in 2012. It was with this reputation of ending long playoff droughts that Kozlowski was hired at Guerin. Can he repeat his success with the Gators? After improving to 3-6 last year, I wouldn't bet against it.

So what do the Gators* look like this season? From a lightly-edited email from Coach Kozlowski himself:

We are returning eleven senior and seven junior starters from last year's team. Junior Richie Zacharias returns for his second season at starting quarterback. He will most likely hand off to senior Jarvis Davis, who is expected to get the bulk of carries on offense. Zacharias, meanwhile, can pass to senior Keith Franklin, who caught 12 touchdowns last year and averaged 21.7 yards per catch. 

On the other side of the ball, senior Vinnie Caeti returns at defensive end where he led the conference last year with 27 sacks. 

The Gators will have six home games this year. 

Below is the entire 2015 Guerin schedule. You really ought to check these guys out!

August 29: @ Chicago International Charter-Ellison

September 5: St. Thomas More
September 11: @ Wheaton Academy
September 19: Aurora Central Catholic
September 25: @ St. Edward

October 2: Elmwood Park
October 10: Walther Christian Academy
October 17: Ridgewood
October 23: @ Chicago Christian

BOWG prediction: Guerin will go 5-4 this year with an appearance in the playoffs. (You heard it here first.)

* It's confirmed: Guerin will return this year as the Crusaders with the old red and grey Holy Cross uniforms.

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