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Bartlett players sing their fight song with fans after beating Leyden on Friday in the first round of the Class 8A playoffs. The Hawks host Loyola on Saturday in the second round. | Michael Jarecki ~ For Sun-Times Media
Toughness is a word thrown around a lot in football, but it is a trait that largely defines Bartlett’s team this year.
Injuries big and small haven’t been enough to derail the Hawks, who look to keep their season alive Saturday when they host Loyola in the second round of the Class 8A playoffs at Millennium Field in Streamwood.
Take for instance the case of senior linebacker Kevin Krause, who was involved in a scary car accident in late September but returned to the field in less than a month.
Then there’s quarterback Steve Hrbacek, who suffered a broken clavicle on Bartlett’s first offensive possession of the season in August. Instead of letting the injury ruin his senior year, Hrbacek returned in mid September as the team’s kicker prior to being cleared for physical contact by doctors.
The list goes on to include senior cornerback Nick Garcia, who is playing with a fractured finger. And there’s senior Chris Kantzavelos, who laid on the field for several minutes during the first half of last week’s playoff win against Leyden after taking a vicious hit while trying to catch a pass, only to return and make big contributions on both sides of the ball in the second half.
“Unless their arm is actually cut off, our guys are going to be out there,” Bartlett coach Tom Meaney said.
The circumstances surrounding Krause’s accident make his return to the field the most remarkable of all.
The 6-foot, 185-pounder was driving home late in the afternoon of Sept. 29 following Bartlett’s homecoming win against Lake Park when he struck a curb, spun into oncoming traffic, rolled up a hill, hit a telephone pole and slammed into a fire hydrant.
The accident sent Krause, who was the only person in the car, flying out the passenger side window. Remarkably, his only injuries were a sprained shoulder and a series of cuts on his back, arms and legs that required 57 stitches.
“It’s a miracle how I got out of that because it should have been a lot worse than it was,” Krause said. “It made me step back and look at life from a different angle. I’m very thankful. I feel like someone was looking out for me up above, like a guardian angel or God.”
Krause said he figured his season was over after the accident, but starting the next week he was in the trainer’s office on a daily basis for therapy.
Krause ended up missing only two games before returning to play in the first half of Bartlett’s Week 9 loss at Neuqua Valley. He was in the mix from start to finish last week against Leyden, saying he felt better than ever while helping the Hawks pitch their second shutout of the season in a 14-0 victory.
Hrbacek’s injury had an even greater impact on the course of Bartlett’s season. It occurred on the team’s fourth offensive play from scrimmage in the season opener against Wheaton North when he rolled out of the pocket and sustained a crushing blow.
The setback was a tough one for Hrbacek, who had patiently waited for his turn to serve as the team’s starting quarterback, but he didn’t lament his bad luck.
“Steve came out to practice every day even though he was in a sling,” Meaney said. “He was out there being a coach on the field.”
The Hawks went on to lose 49-0 in their opener, but they quickly revamped their offense to employ even more of a run-heavy approach behind standout tailback Aaron Everson.
Meanwhile, Hrbacek jumped at his first chance to get back in the action, taking over place kicking duties halfway through the year. His contributions have since expanded to include kickoffs and punts, and it isn’t out of the question that he could see some time at quarterback this week.
As was the case with Krause and Hrbacek, things didn’t look good for Garcia after he suffered a hand injury when he collided with a teammate during Bartlett’s game at Neuqua Valley. The injury turned out to be a fractured left ring finger, but Garcia was right back on the field for last week’s playoff game with his hand and lower arm wrapped in a big cast.
So what is it that inspires Bartlett’s players to hurry back into the fray while they are recovering from more than just typical bumps and bruises? Garcia thinks it has to do with the team’s close-knit nature.
“We’ve been playing together since we were little,” Garcia said. “Since it’s our last year as seniors, we want to make this season worth it.”
According to Krause, the reason is a hard-nosed attitude instilled by Bartlett’s coaching staff.
Every day at practice offensive coordinator Mark Williams and his players recite the same mantra. Williams begins the routine by saying, “Success is...” The players finish the sentence by saying, “... Getting up one more time than you’ve been knocked down.”
The ethos rings especially true with this year’s Hawks.
“It’s true, we get knocked down and then we get back up,” Krause said. “No matter how many times you get knocked down, all that matters is how many times you get back up.”