‘So full of life’: WW South community remembers football star Adler

Philip Frederick Adler III, the former Wheaton Warrenville South All-State running back and consummate sportsman whose ego was smaller than that of a football team’s water boy, died after a long illness on April 21. He was 49.

A 5-foot-7, 210-pounder as a senior, he rushed for the clinching touchdown in Wheaton Warrenville South’s 40-34 double-overtime defeat of Jolliet Catholic in the Class 5A state championship game in 1992.

But Adler did something just as indelible afterward, then-Tigers football coach John Thorne recalled.

“Naperville North’s team was waiting to take the field before the start of the 6A title game,” Thorne said, adding WWS and Naperville North were DuPage Valley Conference (DVC) members at the time. “Phil came up to me and proposed that our team form a tunnel for Naperville North’s entrance onto the field. I told him, ‘Great idea. Go get your buddies.’”

Adler and the rest of the newly minted state champs gathered near an end zone at Illinois State University’s Hancock Stadium and shouted “DVC! DVC! DVC!” as fired-up Huskies sprinted to start their pre-game warm-up.

Naperville North defeated Loyola Academy 21-11 to complete the DVC double in Normal.

“Naperville North people were so appreciative of that gesture,” Thorne said. “Phil was also a standout wrestler. Later that winter, our school’s wrestling team traveled to Naperville North for a meet. They turned the lights down but spotlighted Phil as he was introduced. A statement about Phil’s sportsmanship was read. The school then presented a plaque to Phil.

“He was such a tough athlete and a wonderful person and teammate,” the coach added. “Great dad and husband, too. So full of life.”

Adler, of Warrenville, is survived by his wife, Megan (Comerford), and children Ryne, Reid and Rose. Mr. Adler and former WWS teammate Dave Brumfield worked together as business partners at a local painting company.

Wheaton Warrenville South, formerly Wheaton Central, had existed for only a few months when that ’92 grid squad edged Joliet Catholic to cap its 14-0 season. Mr. Adler played for 13-0 and 12-0 College of DuPage football teams in 1993 and 1994, respectively.

So did former Tigers defensive back Michael LaFido, another ’93 WWS graduate.

“The most down-to-earth guy, a humble All-State athlete who said hi to everybody,” LaFido said of WWS’s third all-time leader in career rushing yardage (3,055 yards in two seasons) behind Red Grange (4,035 yards, 1918-21) and Dan Dierking (6,024 yards, 2004-06). “The first of my three favorite Phil Adler moments (in ascending order) was a run he had against Wheaton North, when it appeared he’d been stopped at the line of scrimmage. Two, three seconds later, Phil Adler was still up, still running. Ended up gaining about 80 yards on the play. Moment number two was the day our school dedicated Red Grange Field. Phil wore jersey 77 — Red Grange’s old number — instead of 32 and ran for about 100 yards before halftime.

“My top Phil Adler moment?” LaFido continued. “Easy. His walk-off TD against Joliet Catholic that ended the state championship game in 1992. It was a 10-yarder. Phil used a spin move to break free.”

Former Wheaton North defensive back Tony Berry caught up to Adler on that near-TD gallop that had begun inauspiciously in the rival game.

“I had to dive for his ankles to stop him at the 2-yard line,” Berry says. “He’d joke with me every now and then when we were adults, saying I’d ruined what could have been an amazing TD. Phil was super polite and modest. A great football player, for sure, but he was a better friend and father who loved to coach his kids.”

For Thorne, any encounter with Adler was an uplifting one.

“I always felt better for the rest of the day after getting to see Phil and talk with him, mostly because he had such a positive outlook on life,” Thorne said.

“Phil,” the coach added, “loved life.”

Other survivors include his mother, Kathleen, brother Ronald (Lisa) Adler and sisters Jeanne (Chris) Miller and Susan (Bret) Schusler). He was preceded in death by his father, Philip Adler II, and brother Michael (Cathy) Adler.

A Service/Visitation will be held at St. Irene Catholic Church, Warrenville, from 11 a.m.-noon on May 3, followed by a Memorial Mass at the church at noon and a Celebration of Life at Courtyard Banquets, Warrenville, beginning at 2 p.m.

Phil Adler is the third all-time leading rusher at Wheaton Warrenville South. Courtesy of Tony Berry
Former Wheaton Warrenville South defensive back Michael LaFido, left, and star running back Phil Adler after LaFido asked Adler to talk to his Wheaton Rams eighth grade football team in 2023. Courtesy of Tony Berry
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