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Article updated: 10/25/2012 10:25 PM

Schrader thrilled to be back in LZ's backfield

By Patricia Babcock

All these years later, the trophy is still on display. Even two moves couldn't displace it from its rightful spot in Connor Schrader's bedroom.

The Lake Zurich running back likes to reminisce about his third-grade Super Bowl victory. He remembers details of the game as if it had been played yesterday.

"We won 14-0, and I was on the defensive line. We had a great team," Schrader said of his youth football days with the Lake Zurich Flames. "A lot of my teammates now were on that team, guys like Jack Sweeney, Grant Soucy and Robert Rossdeutcher."

At the time, Schrader often wondered how many other Super Bowls and championships he'd win with his Lake Zurich teammates.

Until one day, Schrader was no longer playing on any teams in Lake Zurich.

At the end of that third grade year, Schrader found out that his family would be moving to the Peoria area for his dad Rodney's job transfer with Komatsu, a construction equipment manufacturer. As he packed up his trophy and his other belongings, Schrader feared that he would never see his Super Bowl teammates again.

"It was hard," Schrader said. "Any time you leave friends, it's tough."

It was just as tough for Schrader to say goodbye to a football program that was clearly on the rise and full of potential.

Schrader left town just as the varsity Bears earned their second of what has now become 11 straight playoff appearances.

Three years after the Schraders moved, in 2006, Lake Zurich placed second in the state. The year after that, the Bears won the 2007 Class 7A state championship.

All Schrader could do was watch from afar, and wonder what could have been.

Recently, Schrader got to stop wondering. And, as he prepares for another deep playoff run with the Bears, who open the Class 7A playoffs on Saturday against visiting Crystal Lake South, he still can't believe his good fortune and good timing.

Schrader got some of the best news of his young life two years ago when his father told the family that they were returning to Lake Zurich. His company was relocating him again.

"I was really happy to know that I could finish out high school at Lake Zurich," said Schrader, who spent his freshman year and half of his sophomore year at downstate Dunlap High School. "I was really excited about playing for a team like this. At Dunlap, it was just different."

Heading into this season, Dunlap had missed the playoffs only once in the previous 11 years. But the Eagles have never once advanced past the second round.

"At Dunlap, we were always kind of middle of the pack and it was great just to get into the playoffs," Schrader said. "We'd always get knocked out right away. Coming back to Lake Zurich, it's so different. This program is a dominant program. There's this expectation for getting to the semifinals and the finals every year.

"I couldn't wait to be a part of that."

This season, Schrader will be a big part of any kind of magical run by the Bears.

After starting on the defensive line last season in his first full year back and helping Lake Zurich to a third semifinal appearance, Schrader is now the Bears' top rusher.

The 5-foot-10, 200-pound senior has rushed for 12 touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards. His best game came against Zion-Benton in which he rolled up 244 yards and 3 touchdowns. In a wild win over Stevenson that pretty much sealed Lake Zurich's fate as the North Suburban Conference Lake Division champion, Schrader sprinted for a 60-yard touchdown that decided the game.

"When Connor came back in his sophomore year, we really had no idea what kind of player he was," Lake Zurich coach Dave Proffitt said. "But we found out real quick. He was great on the defensive line last year and it shows you how good of an athlete he is that he's been able to go from there to running back.

"Connor has great speed and he's got a fast motor. He's always go, go, go, always playing like his hair is on fire. And he's always doing something to make himself better."

Schrader joined track to keep sharp for football, and he's worked with a speed coach in Deerfield. He's also a fixture in the weight room.

"I'm a sleep-in-the-gym kind of guy," Schrader said with a laugh. "I think I have a lot of drive and determination. I'm always looking for a challenge.

"I probably made one of my biggest jumps between my sophomore and junior year. I knew coming in (from Dunlap) that if I wanted to make an impact at a powerhouse school like Lake Zurich, I was going to have to be in the gym every single day."

The hard work is paying off in other ways, too.

Schrader is now receiving interest from college recruiters at the Division II and Division III levels.

"I would love to play football in college," Schrader said. "I'd just want to be on a really good team again."

Dating all the way back to third grade, Lake Zurich has spoiled him.

pbabcock@dailyherald.com

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