By: Luke Drase
“When did Maine West become good at football?”
That seems to be the question everybody has been asking themselves lately.
Not always known for their athletic success, (with the exception of their dominance in girls basketball) the Maine West Warriors have had a fall sports season to remember, highlighted of course, by the incredible performance of their football team.
Conference champions for the first time since 1979, Maine West will take the field on Friday against Benet in their first playoff appearance since 2002.
This years Maine West team isn’t a one year anomaly, but rather, a culmination of four years of hard work, under head coach Jason Kradman.
Kradman, a native Floridian, first took over the Maine West job back in 2014 after two successful years in charge of the football program at Miami Beach high school.
A seemingly strange move when you consider Maine West won three total football games in the three years prior to Kradman taking over.
“After we had our first child, my wife decided she wanted to move back closer to her family in the midwest,” said Kradman. “It seemed like a good school district, and a good fit and an opportunity to do some good things with the program.”
Fast forward four years and now, ‘opportunity to do good things with the program’ seems like a massive understatement.
So far, Kradman has far exceeded any and all expectations, and the culture change surrounding the Maine West football program in just four short years has been remarkable.
Kradman said: “It started in year one obviously. It was more just being real with the guys and explaining you can’t just be in for a couple of months. Each and every year we built on our offseason program and pushed the envelope a little bit more and the past two years it’s really gotten supercharged.”
The continual improvement has been evident every year Kradman has been in charge. Winning only two games his first year, Maine West improved upon their record each successive year, one win at a time, until finally breaking through in 2017.
For the seniors especially, who began at Maine West the same year as coach Kradman, this season has been even more special as they finally reap the benefits of four years of hard work.
Kradman started listing all of the seniors who were instrumental in the program’s turnaround, but stopped as to not leave anybody out.
Not only has Maine West’s play on the field been stellar, but there is a vibe that the Warriors really are family and it shows. Not only with the players, but with a coaching staff that features many Maine West alumni.
“A large part of what we tried to do is try to bring back some guys that are invested in the community and invested in the school,” said Kradman. “We have four alumni coaches which has been big. Just making it fun and making it special to be in that group.”
With the solid foundation finally put in place, Maine West was ready to make their mark on the CSL and the state of Illinois.
Throughout the entire season, the Warriors have had one motto.
The acronym stands for “Get us to six,” the amount of wins needed to clinch a IHSA playoff birth.
Seen in the locker room, on t-shirts, and throughout the school, the motto was a constant reminder to the Maine West players of what their ultimate goal was this season.
With all of their on the field goals completed thus far, there is still one box on the Warriors goal board that is left unchecked. To win the first ever playoff game in school history.
Maine West will host a very experienced Benet team on Friday night, who has qualified for the playoffs each of the last six years, a slightly different history than the Warriors, who will be hosting their first home playoff game since 1993.
Kradman said: “Benet are an extremely well coached program. It starts up front with them, they’re offensive and defensive line are talented and their secondary is one of the best I’ve seen on film in a long time.”
But no matter how long the odds may be, the Warriors will have the support of entire school and community come game day, who have stuck with the team through thick and thin.
“Our kids will be ready,” said Kradman. “I know there will be tremendous support from the community, it’s been a long time since we’ve had a playoff game at home. I think our kids are excited to be in that type of environment in a game like that in front of their friends and family and to showcase their abilities because we know that it’s win or go home.
No matter the outcome of the game against Benet, coach Kradman is extremely proud of his teams accomplishments both on and off the field, and one result won’t change that in the slightest.
“We’ve been getting closer and closer over the past couple years and lost a few heartbreakers, games we had no business being in,” concluded Kradman.
“Finally breaking through this year, starting to roll, they feel like they expect to win now rather than being a team that’s always the underdog, who is a long shot to win. Seeing them finally see success on a regular basis was awesome.”
Expecting to win is half the battle in any sport, and for those still baffled about the Warriors success, your ponderings can be answered with another question…
Why not Maine West?