The ultimate goal of a high school football season is to win a state championship. But winning it all is no simple task. The season is long, grueling, and filled with ups and downs.
Each year, a distinguished group of teams get to hoist state championship trophies and celebrate. An even smaller cohort gets to boast an undefeated season.
This fall, the Cary Grove High School football team was one such team. Not only did they win the 6A Illinois State Championship, but they did so with a perfect 14-0 season.
After the victory, Cary Grove was recognized as the number one team in the entire state of Illinois by Max Preps and the Chicago Sun Times.
This historic success didn’t happen by chance or luck. The Cary Grove football team worked hard on the field and in the weight room to become champions.
Cary Grove is your Illinois Class 6A State Champions😳🔥 @CaryGroveHS @SheehanJameson— SLOCHE (@sloche_o) November 27, 2021
The Trojans win 37-36 over East St. Louis! Game of the year. pic.twitter.com/UoMePVujcL
There were four solid contenders for the No. 1 spot in the final rankings, but in the end I agreed with the readers (based on the Twitter poll).— Michael O'Brien (@michaelsobrien) November 28, 2021
The Importance Of The Weight Room For High School Football
Cary Grove High School knows what it takes to be great. As 2009 and 2018 state champions, the program has always looked at the weight room as a place for growth and improvement.
Ryan Ludwig, football coach and Dean of Students at Cary Grove, describes the connection made between the field and the weight room,
“We might not always be the biggest or fastest on paper, but we will battle with the best. And that mentality comes from the time we put in the weight room.”
Simply put, success on the field starts in the weight room.
Consistency: Working Out Through A Global Pandemic
One key differentiation between good and great programs is how consistently they train throughout the year. A good program will workout when it is convenient. A great program finds ways, even when it is challenging to continue to workout and get better.
For Cary Grove football, consistency has long been the expectation during the off-season. But when Covid came and shut down regular weight room hours in 2020, that became far more complicated.
For Cary Grove, no stranger to overcoming adversity, the decision was simple: find a tool that would let athletes train no matter the circumstances.
To do so, the football team turned to an online training app – PLT4M. With PLT4M, Cary Grove athletes could still train at home via a mobile app. It allowed consistency even through a global pandemic.
(Check out how the whole school adopted PLT4M during Covid)
And because the coaching staff had access to the app as well, they could keep their athletes accountable by remotely monitoring their workouts and progress.
Back To The Weight Room – Delivering Workouts Digitally
While Cary Grove first adopted PLT4M as a Covid solution, they saw the opportunity to keep delivering workouts digitally even as the athletes returned to the weight room in 2021. Ryan recalls the transition being smooth,
“When we were able to get everyone back to the weight room, it was like we hadn’t missed a beat. And with PLT4M, we were organized and able to go digital when delivering our workouts in the weight room.”
Beyond just being more organized, the coaches could now deliver workouts to athletes with tailored weights based off of each athletes’ personal maxes. As they had done during Covid, the coaches could continue tracking and monitoring athletes, but now that they were back in the weight room, they found it just as easy to update and manage athlete maxes.
After a few spring football games in 2021, Cary Grove was able to get back to its traditional off-season training. Despite the new technology, the mentality was still the same:
“It was just so great to be back together this summer and grinding as a team. That is what I think gets a team ready both mentally and physically for a long season.”
Training Doesn’t Stop Once The Season Starts
Once the season starts, many coaches prioritize on the field time. You only have so much time to get ready for each game that this is a natural thing to do.
But the typical high school football schedule can stretch three months – longer if you make the playoffs. Without time dedicated to the weight room, athletes will wear down faster, and lose strength and readiness throughout the season.
For Cary Grove, athletes can join a strength and conditioning elective that is offered throughout the school year. This class helps athletes, including the football players, lift and train during the day, even while in-season.
During the season, the team looks to strike the balance of maintenance and improvement in the weight room. Ryan describes it as a delicate balancing act:
“You want to do enough that you can keep kids strong and healthy, but making it through a 14 game season is hard. So we have made it a big focus to adjust based on how our kids are feeling. Some weeks we needed to scale back or even add in an extra recovery day. Other weeks we could scale up when the athletes were feeling good.”
Because the team was connected through PLT4M, these changes happened seamlessly throughout the season leading right up to the championship.
The Final Score – A Season To Remember
When Cary Grove made it to the state championship, many still considered them to be underdogs. But for a team who had constantly tackled adversity throughout the year, they were ready.
So when the game became a back-and-forth thriller, Cary Grove stayed steady. In the end, they were able to make one final defensive stop to win 37 to 36.
And while the state might remember Cary Grove for their record and final victory, the team has memories that will last a lifetime. From the time spent together in the weight room, locker room, practice field, team bus, and under the Friday night lights, the 2021 Cary Grove football team will never forget their championship season.
A Fox Valley legend was born tonight in DeKalb.— Michael O'Brien (@michaelsobrien) November 27, 2021
Cary-Grove shocked East St. Louis and Luther Burden, the top team and top player in the state, to win Class 6A. https://t.co/beuqlMvSIP
Class 6A (FINAL): Cary-Grove 37, East St. Louis 36. pic.twitter.com/mWyN4NEGUg— Alex Kantecki (@akantecki) November 27, 2021