During the spring, the majority of the Libertyville football team was in the weight room by 6 a.m. four days a week.
This summer, the Wildcats are slacking off. Lifting doesn’t start until 7 a.m.
“They feel like it’s a treat,” Wildcats coach Mike Jones said with a smile.
The weight room has been a particular point of emphasis this offseason. To lead those workouts, Jones hired Ben Wellenbach as the team’s strength and conditioning coach. Wellenbach owns BeWell Fitness in Libertyville.
“I wanted someone that could help us get the most out of our offseason,” Jones said. “I’ve known him for four or five years and it’s a good fit. He’s very demanding and excited to see them make gains and grow their confidence level.”
“He’s not the type of guy that will just scream and yell at you,” senior wide receiver Jake Mansfield said. “He’ll encourage you, and the lifting program has a more positive feel. We’ve had players put on gains that we haven’t seen the last few years. The guys are gearing up for football earlier than in previous seasons. We’re a bigger and stronger [team] than I thought we would be.”
Junior quarterback Riley Lees said the senior class has set the tone in terms of expectations. The Wildcats are coming off a 4-5 season.
“They’re very motivated to do well this year and we all have big expectations,” he said. “We know what we want from each other and we’re all on the same page.”
Last year, Anthony Monken, Mansfield and Lees competed for the starting quarterback job. Monken was named the starter and is now playing for Louisiana-Monroe. Mansfield earned a starting position at wide receiver and Lees at running back.
This season, Mansfield is a lot more comfortable playing wide receiver.
“Jake’s in a situation where he knows he’s going to play receiver,” Jones said. “He knows where he fits in and he’s been able to really take on a leadership position.”
In the offseason, Mansfield and the other receivers made it a point to get in lots of route-running with Lees throwing the ball.
“That really helped our chemistry,” Mansfield said. “Riley is one of the best athletes I’ve seen and he’s made a lot of strides as a quarterback.”
Lees is showing more patience in the pocket.
“I’ve been a scrambler my whole life,” he said. “I’m focused more on staying in the pocket and making the [correct] throw.”
Since so many of Libertyville’s athletes compete in other sports, Jones waited until this week to begin summer camp. The Wildcats start 7-on-7s later this month.
“We want to make sure that everything we do is with a sense of urgency and that we have all the pieces in the right place,” Jones said.