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Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Q&A with Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling

By Scott Powers

Shepard Little
The impact of Shepard Little's return to Schaumburg has been noticeable.
Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling's phone hasn't stopped ringing with calls and text messages ever since his Saxons ended Maine South's 28-game winning streak with a 29-17 win on Friday.

It was a win he -- nor anyone in the community -- will forget anytime soon. At the same time, though, Stilling is ready to move on. Beating Maine South was a good step for this year's team, but he hopes it's not the final one.

Despite everyone else trying to call him, Stilling did have time to take a phone call from and talked about the historic win, his team's goals, the return of running back Shepard Little after being suspended last season, starting a freshman guard against Maine South and more.

What was the weekend like for you?

Mark Stilling: You know what? It was me trying to be polite and accept congratulations and not nearly enough time to answer everybody. It's very exciting for our kids, and everyone around school was extremely jacked up about it.

But I think our kids have a healthy level of confidence. I don't know if they were that surprised by the outcome. We have team goals. Beating Maine South wasn't one of them. These guys believe they can play deep into November. Not to take away from it being a huge win, but this weekend for me was moving onto Buffalo Grove. People were extremely congratulatory about it, which is awesome, but my focus moved onto next Friday night.

How were you able to sell to the kids they could be the first ones to beat Maine South in three years?

MS: I'll be very honest with you, we never talked about beating Maine South. We have a consistent message about making yourself play hard and believing in our stuff, in terms of schemes and what we do. Our kids believe in playing hard and believe in doing what we're doing.

Were you confident about it?

MS: I'll say this -- this is the fourth year we played them, and in terms of reading our kids this was the most confident our kids felt about going out and doing their job. Sometimes when you're playing an opponent that's more highly regarded, that affects kids in their ability to do their jobs. I think that might have been the case the last couple of years.

Does being a professional psychologist help in any way in coaching?

MS: Not consciously. I hear all coaches are psychologists to a certain degree. It's not something I consciously do. If anything, it makes it a little more difficult at times because as a psychologist, especially in a counseling setting, you're extremely understanding and tolerant of what people think and how they feel as part of the therapeutic process. I have to be a little more demanding when the bell rings at 2:45 and step on the football field. There's a different mind set. The commonality is you're trying to guide people's behavior to achieve goals. What do I have to move these kids, motivate these kids?

What surprised you about Friday's game?

MS: This was the fastest we played against them. I don't necessarily think this is the fastest team we've had in the last 4-5 years. It certainly is not. It goes back to the level of confidence we had. Not beating Maine South, but confident in doing their jobs and knowing their assignments.

We're sitting there the Tuesday before the game with our 6th, 7th, 8th offensive linemen in the starting lineup. We were pretty banged up last week. We ended up starting our backup center [Mike Baumhard] and a freshman guard [Matt Zolper]. Those two kids performed not adequately, but they performed as if they belonged. It was a concern going in how they would respond. The first series our quarterback is on his back two times. The second time he picked himself up slowly. Oh, boy. To see them respond on that stage was pretty impressive, especially the freshman kid. He hadn't taken a varsity snap. He hadn't taken a high school football snap.

Did the year away from football have any impact on Shepard Little on or off the field?

MS: Here's the deal, the way our athletic code works is he wasn't allowed to play any games last year, but he was at practice every day. He never missed a day. He's back. He's not only our most talented player, but he's our hardest working player. I think it made him appreciate what he has. He's really made a conscious effort to change himself as a human being. Part of the incident was life just happens. He didn't think about what happened if he did it. I think he's much more aware of what's at stake.

Maine South hasn't been held to that few points in three years as well. What impressed you about the defense?

MS: Maine South is extremely athletic. On top of that, I think they play very hard. The last few years we've been victimized by the big plays. Their big plays just crushed us, particularly on third down. One, they didn't get a big play until 46 seconds left in the game. A lot of what they do revolves around a bubble screen. Our kids were phenomenal in the execution that revolved around that.

What impact could this have on the season?

MS: Making sure our kids know they have to get better. I think it was responding to texts and responding to e-mails and voicemail, trying to be gracious and polite to everybody. I can't express how much I appreciate that. If I'm going through that, I can't imagine what our kids are going through. Just understanding that we have team goals and beating Maine South wasn't one of them. It's cool to be in the papers and for our program, but we want more than this. As for the rest of the season, this is all a really nice accomplishment for our program, but this isn't the end.

Are you afraid of a letdown?

MS: I really believe our kids have a good level of maturity. Shepard being there two years ago helps. I think our captains have a mature enough sense about them that they understand we didn't just go out and beat Maine South because we're more talented. We didn't go out and beat Maine South because we got lucky. We went out and accomplished that because of the work we put in. It's my job that we continue to understand that.