Thursday, July 21, 2011

Old school football coach is an offensive innovator

Grouwinkel's having fun, and York follows his lead
Author(s):    Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: September 15, 1995
Page: 1
Section: Sports Extra (High School)
The fumblerooski and Gary Grouwinkel appeared in the West Suburban Silver Conference at the same time, and no, it wasn't just a coincidence. York didn't play in a state playoff game until 1985, 11 years after the postseason system began and four years after Grouwinkel took over the Dukes. Again, no coincidence.

In fact, very little is left to chance when Grouwinkel and football coincide. Though he is at his happiest calling plays which look as though the Dukes quarterback has traced them in the dirt, there is a method to the madness which Downers Grove North coach Pete Ventrelli and his staff know so well.

"(Grouwinkel's) an expert at picking apart defenses," Ventrelli says.

In the last regular-season game of 1994, York spun Ventrelli's team around and around in a 41-14 win in which the Dukes scored three times in the first half on some form of - in which the offensive line sets up to the left or right of the skill players - called back.

Last week, the Dukes - this season armed with an offense which doesn't need trickery - befuddled Downers Grove North 33-13. There were no flea-flickers, just a direct snap to a man in motion, a reverse for a touchdown, 19 first downs and 355 yards of offense. Ho-hum.

"That's two years in a row that we've had total frustration trying to stop them," Ventrelli says. "It would be fun to be one of his players."

Well, let's check. Dukes senior quarterback Mike Connors says "It's fun."

Senior right guard Matt Moran says "It's definitely fun blocking for an offense that's moving the ball."

So it's official. Playing offense for Grouwinkel is a blast, and this year Connors and a deep corps of skill players are returning the favor.

Because of the talents of Connors (31 for 57, 494 yards) and receivers Tim Stratton and Rick Hoffman, the Dukes have a potent passing attack.

Because of senior tailback Eric Anderson, senior fullback George Brown and junior tailback Max Milinkovich, York boasts - along with Naperville North - the best trio of runners in DuPage County.

Because of all this coincidence, Grouwinkel is enjoying himself immensely.

"When you can't throw the ball, it's a pretty dull practice," Grouwinkel says. "This year we can be a little more versatile. When we have the ability, we try to be creative. I like to be creative."

"That's a good word for it," Connors says.

* * *

Grouwinkel's background suggests more crash than flash, more grind than mind. As an offensive lineman at Iowa, Grouwinkel started on the Hawkeyes Rose Bowl teams of 1957 and 1959, and was voted one of the best Hawkeyes guards of the decade.

His coaching career began at Ottumwa High, where he won Iowa Coach of the Year honors after Ottumwa won the 1963 state title. Grouwinkel began college coaching as offensive line coach at North Dakota, then moved on to the University of Arizona (offensive coordinator), back to Iowa (line coach), on to Northwestern (offensive coordinator) from 1969 to 1971 and finished up at Florida State (offensive coordinator) in 1975.

None of the teams Grouwinkel coached for won much in the few years before his arrival or while he was there. The only significant professional player on those teams was Iowa running back Ed Podolak, who starred for the Kansas City Chiefs in the early 1970s. Grouwinkel's open-minded play-calling of today had its roots in the mediocrity of yesterday.

"Whatever success we had, we had to have a little imagination," Grouwinkel says.

Fast-forward to 1981, when Grouwinkel came to Elmhurst. No recruiting to fill needs, half as many kids to choose from. To his off-balance strategizing Grouwinkel had to add resourcefulness.

"You're basically working internally," Grouwinkel says. "You have to run whatever you're given."

Soon, the other WSSC coaches were introduced to the fumblerooski - the center leaves the ball on the ground for a guard to carry - which Glenbard West coach Jim Covert swears York did with a suspicious twist by having the center hold the ball between his heels and butt.

According to Oak Park coach Jack McInerney, Grouwinkel's golfing partner, Grouwinkel's teams sometimes tried the "sleeper" play: during a flurry of substitutions, one player remained a foot or so inbounds, pretending to confer with coaches. He would then streak down the field, presumably forgotten, for a bomb.

The sleeper play has been curtailed by a rule stating a player must come within 10 yards of the huddle before a play, while referees must now be told of an impending fumblerooski. Where's the fun in that?

"We can play a par-3 and (Grouwinkel) won't tell me what club he's using," McInerney says. "So you know he doesn't want to tell anybody his plays."

Thanks largely to the work of longtime defensive coordinator Terry Grider, the Dukes have built a foundation of strong defense while making the playoffs in 1985, '86, '88, '89, '92 and '93.

In recent years they've also conformed to the West Suburban's reputation for smash-mouth offense. But remember, it's the personnel that dictates the attack, not the coach.

In 1986, Dukes receiver Greg Fisher caught 68 passes, the 10th highest total in Illinois history. Throwing to him was George Valaika, who also passed to an end named Mike Grant. Fisher wound up at Northwestern, while Grant played at Cornell and Valaika at Wabash.

"You have to go with your athletes," Grouwinkel says.

Now, Grouwinkel has the talent to go with his tastes, and the Dukes are second in the county in total offense (1,024 yards).

In Connors, Grouwinkel can rely on an accurate thrower who has his head in the game and with whom he meets every eighth period for strategy sessions. Connors wants to be an engineer.

"He's very adept at finding out what's going on," Grouwinkel says.

"That's one of the assets I have, and (Grouwinkel) really utilizes that," Connors says. "We do a lot of audibles."

The Dukes offensive line returns three starters in Frank Grote, who's adjusting to center after a year at guard, Moran and 6-foot-2, 275-pound right tackle Pete Twardowski.

Seniors Scott Lestina and John Bishof man the left side of the line and are among the team's GPA leaders. Junior tight end Kevin Ryan was voted last week's most valuable offensive lineman.

The 6-4 Stratton is a versatile player in a versatile arsenal. Originally a quarterback, Stratton stood out as a sophomore linebacker on varsity in 1994 and was re-discovered while playing receiver for the scout team late last season. He's caught 13 passes for 256 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Anderson ran for 902 yards in 1994, and is behind that pace only because of the Dukes' balance. Emotional leader Brown (team-high 182 yards) has benefited from that balance, while Milinkovich - the 1995 WSSC long-jump champ as a sophomore - stepped in last week for an injured Anderson and gained 158 yards.

With this crew, you might guess the Dukes would practice their tricks less often. You'd guess wrong.

As the quickest lineman, Moran would be the guard to carry the ball on the inevitable fumblerooski.

"He's distributing (the ball) beautifully," Moran says of Grouwinkel. "Hopefully, I'll get it sometime." "We do practice it," Grouwinkel says with a chuckle.
© Copyright Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.


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