Disabato: T.F. South back to its winning ways
By Pat Disabato email@example.com Twitter: @pdisabato October 3, 2012 9:00PM
T.F. South's Saleem Sanford (left) and Drakkar Frazier (8). | Ray Luna~For Sun-Times Media
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Updated: November 5, 2012 11:27AM
A 38-7 defeat isn’t quite the way any coach wants to start a season.
Such a shellacking can severely damage team morale and, additionally, sap energy from a fan base yearning to experience the thrills of winning football.
Welcome to Week 1, 2012, of T.F. South football.
Coach Tom Padjen, a year removed from enduring one of the most trying seasons of his 37-year career, wasn’t about to watch this season slip away.
Successful coaches identify problem areas and make corrections.
“We made a lot of changes after the Crete-Monee game,” Padjen said of the opponent that provided the 37-8 butt-kicking. “We had a lot of question marks going into the season. That’s why you play a team the caliber of Crete-Monee the first game — to see what you need to do.”
For Padjen, that meant moving personnel to different positions, including some to the bench.
Much like a master chess player, Padjen’s moves have worked, restoring a proud T.F. South program back to relevance.
The No. 10 Rebels, who finished 4-5 in 2011, have won five in a row, including road victories over Tinley Park and Lemont.
Most important, T.F. South sits atop the South Suburban Blue, in complete control of its destiny. It’s a far cry from 2011, when the Rebels failed to qualify for the postseason for just the third time in the past 18 seasons.
“What a difference a year makes,” said Padjen, whose Rebels upended Lemont 21-20 in Week 6. “At this time last season we had just lost in overtime to T.F. North and were 1-5. Then we won three straight games, including wins over two playoff teams and that success carried us into this season.”
There are very few similarities between this year’s and last year’s teams. The most glaring difference: discontent has been replaced by harmony.
“These guys understand the team concept and are very coachable,” Padjen said. “They’re very unselfish, and there’s great team chemistry.”
While defeating Lemont, which until last week hadn’t lost a conference game since Week 5 of the 2009 season, was a major step, the previous week’s victory over Tinley Park might have been a season-changer.
Faced with the decision to convert a PAT kick and tie the game or go for the 2-point conversion and potential win with 3:20 remaining in the game, Padjen elected to go for the win. The Rebels converted for a 22-21 victory.
“We were on the road and with their big (running) back (Preston Thompson), they would give that guy the ball four times and probably he’s going to get three or four years per carry,” said Padjen, rationalizing his decision. “We had a chance to win the game right there. If you can’t gain three yards, you don’t deserve to win.
“Sometimes those decisions work, and there are times when you don’t make the block or the other team steps up and makes the play and stops you. We made the play and then we got the interception to seal the win.”
It was a gutsy call. If the Rebels failed to convert and lose the game, it’s debatable whether they could have gathered themselves and produced the effort required to upend Lemont. We’ll never know for sure.
What is certain is that converting and beating Tinley Park provided the boost in confidence and momentum necessary to slay Lemont.
“I think the Tinley Park game definitely helped,” Padjen said. “It’s a funny game. Lemont goes for the field goal with nine seconds left and we get lucky and the ball goes off the crossbar. The week before against Oak Forest, Lemont did the same thing and made the field goal and won the game. You never know.”
What is known is that the Rebels are in the conference driver’s seat.
They have a productive three-headed monster in the backfield with Saleem Sanford, Joe Young and James Bucksath. They have a leader at quarterback in Peyton Padjen, Tom’s nephew. They have a productive offensive line, led by 6-foot-3, 300-pound giant Sam Kessler.
Defensively, there’s 5-6, 160-pound nose tackle Austin Berryhill and cornerback Drakkar Frazier.
There are unsung heroes in Josh Gentry, playing center for the first time in his career; Raphael Canty, who graciously moved from tackle to tight end; and sophomore Adam Kessler, Sam’s brother, who has excelled on the O-line after a promotion to the varsity after the Crete-Monee debacle.
It’s all clicked.
“We control out own destiny,” Padjen said. “You can’t ask for any more than that.”