How prep football teams try to keep players fresh during deep playoff runs

If you're playing football this weekend, I'm betting you're not 100% healthy.

It's the nature of the grind as high school teams plow deeper into the playoffs. More serious injuries may take you out of action, but the bumps and bruises just keep building up without a decent rest.

As the sport struggles to maintain participation levels, the aches have become an issue with smaller rosters. The best players must be on the field, but that means more two-way play.

For a team like IC Catholic Prep, with only 30 players, staying healthy is critical.

The Knights, the defending Class 3A champions, faced 8A champ Loyola in Week 7 and lost 47-0. Nine key contributors didn't play because of injuries and a flu bug.

It's a situation coach Bill Krefft can't afford again.

The Knights play St. Laurence in the 4A quarterfinals with seven two-way players. To keep them fresh, younger players will rotate in, even if it's just for a handful of snaps.

But there's only so much you can do with a roster of 30.

Years ago, when two platoon play was more common, a coach told me he didn't consider a player going two ways unless he was a lineman.

Coaches today seem much more aware of the grind players endure.

Warren coach Bryan McNulty, with a larger roster as a Class 8A team, said he has no full-time two-way players. Still, he recognizes the need to give bodies a rest.

As the Blue Devils prepared to face Lincoln-Way East this week, they spent more time in the film room than on the practice field.

Lake Zurich coach Ron Planz and his staff train the entire roster to play on both sides of the ball. They may not see both sides during games, but they're ready if needed.

Practicing that way allows the coaches to create depth charts where someone's always ready to step up, especially after a long drive when players most need a breather.

Wheaton Academy coach Jim Johanik has nine two-way players heading into the 4A quarterfinals. Like with other programs, the playoff focus shifts to film more than the practice field.

At this point in the season, he believes the team gets more done in the film room breaking down everything from helmet placement by offensive linemen to the hips of defensive backs.

Geneva operates similarly, even with only two two-way players. Later in the season, coach Boone Thorgesen said, practice becomes more about film study, assignments, timing and technique.

For York coach Mike Fitzgerald, whose team has three two-way players, communication is the key. Players tell coaches when they need a breather, and coaches know their players well enough to interpret tired body language.

To rest his 36 players, including five to seven two-way guys, St. Francis coach Bob McMillen builds in walk-through practices early and late in the week.

The approaches are similar among coaches. So too is the all-hands-on-deck mentality among players.

If it's the playoffs, you'll find them grinding through to reach the next round.

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