The football season’s over. The Huskies and the Friars have put away the pigskins and hung up the shoulder pads. Heck, even the Bears have pretty much called it quits. But has the local football scene really closed down for the year?

I want to make you aware – if you’re not already – of the Concordia Chicago football team. The Cougars used to be worse than horrendous. During the 2004 and ’05 seasons, the glee club could have beaten them. The Cougars never won a game during those two seasons, going 0-20. They were so bad they lost their moniker to a word that describes attractive older women. Now that’s bad.

But then head coach Lonnie Pries came aboard in ’06 and right off the line things changed. Pries, a former defensive linemen for Concordia, coached the Cougars to victory in his first game at the helm, breaking that embarrassing losing streak. The coach dug in and went to work building a competitive program.

Things looked positive, but patience would need to be applied six to seven times per season for awhile. Concordia finished 2-8 that year, and 3-7 in ’07.

It reminds me of the 1994 movie Shawshank Redemption, when lead character Andy Dufresne picks away at the wall of his prison cell with a small rock hammer. He has nothing but time on his hands – and a rather large poster of Rita Hayworth. The Concordia football team chipped away, bit by bit, grabbing another three victories last year and turning the tide entirely during this season’s campaign. The Cougars are currently 8-1. Last week, they set a new school record for wins in a single season with a 44-27 victory over Aurora University. The last time the program had reached seven victories in a season had been 1987, before that it was 1968. It seems about every 20 years or so the Cougar Comet arrives.

Pries and his staff have managed to grow the overall roster to over 90 players, 30 or so more than the dismal days of ’04 through ’06. With no football scholarships available in Division III, Pries and his coaches work hard to find the right athlete for Concordia.

“It’s all about finding players that will fit here. We make sure the guys we recruit feel comfortable at the school,” he said. “Football is great, but it only lasts a portion of the year. That’s why this program has a family-type atmosphere. Whether you’re a starter or a reserve, everyone is treated the same.”

Pries doesn’t have anyone from Oak Park or River Forest on this season’s team, but he’s eager to make a connection with more local athletes.

“I think a lot of them think it’s a little too close to home,” he said of Concordia’s campus on Division in River Forest, “but we’d love to start drawing from the local high schools.”

The Cougars host Benedictine on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. A victory earns them at least a share of the NAC title and a berth in the NCAA Division III playoffs, a first for the program.

Football lives on.

Contact: bspencer@wjinc.com

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Brad Spencer

Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...