MINOOKA — When I cover senior night events, I almost always ask the coach about his or her senior class. And I almost always get a stock answer.
The odds are great that the coach will praise their seniors and thank them for what they've done for the program. Usually the coaches seem genuine, but there have been a few instances where, knowing what I've known about certain members of a class, I suspect the coach is saying the things they're saying because they feel they have to. But the point is that those things get said.
Thursday night in Minooka, I got the rare refreshing answer when I asked wrestling coach Jeff Charlebois about his senior class. It wasn't that Charlebois ripped the class or anything like that, but he made it clear that, in a program with high expectations, compliments wouldn't be thrown around without being warranted.
"The thing about this senior class is that they were freshmen when we won a state championship in 2010, and we finished second when they were sophomores," Charlebois said. "They've seen a lot in this program. They've got to be part of a lot of some great things. And they got to learn from some great senior classes.
"How they're going to be remembered is up to them. They've still got the chance to have some success of their own. They can still be leaders to the freshmen we have here now, the way seniors were leaders to them when they were freshmen. But they have to make the decision to put in the work and have the commitment to make it happen."
That night, the Indians beat Plainfield East 44-21 and remained perfect at 4-0 in Southwest Prairie Conference duals on the season. That's the good news.
The bad news is that, even with the win, they're 11-6 overall in duals, and they're tied for 25th in the Illinois Matmen Class 3A state rankings. Many programs would love to have those things be true about them. Many programs are not Minooka.
Danny Ruettiger is a 132-pound senior for Minooka and the son of former Indians head coach Bernie Ruettiger, who still serves as an assistant. When the Indians finished second in the state in 2011, he was in the lineup as a 103-pounder, and he has been around the program for all of its recent highs.
"We definitely have a lot of hard work ahead of us. We need to pick it up," Danny Ruettiger said.
I asked him if there was still time for the Indians to get to the level at which they want to be.
"Yes, I think so, if we do the work," he said. "But it has to start to happen. This is the time of year where you have to start hitting your stride."
The Indians were unofficially beginning the start of the second half of their season Thursday night with their first event of 2012. It wasn't like the Indians were coming back from any lengthy break or anything. They had gone just two weeks since their last SPC dual despite the holidays and also wrestled in events at Oak Park River Forest and Granite City.
"I don't think the holidays are a distraction because we still wrestle. It's just more tournaments at this time of year," Danny Ruettiger said. "Tournaments can be a good things because you can pump yourself up for them and face good competition. You can improve a lot when you're going to a bunch of tournaments."