ST. CHARLES – Zach Mettetal cried on the field as St. Charles North stunned Mount Carmel last Saturday to send itself further into the history books.
"I just told [North Stars coach] Rob [Pomazak]: 'We've come such a long way,'" he said.
"I know I'm not on the team, but inside, it feels like [we're] all a part of this...we're all one big family."
Mettetal, who graduated in 2017, was Noth's starting quarterback for two seasons. Mettetal initially began his collegiate career playing baseball at Memphis for a year, but has since hung up his spikes. He now studies at Iowa.
Mettetal, Lucas Segobiano, Mike Hohensee and Dylan Keegan – all major pieces to past North teams – now are among an alumni base that is cheering on from college.
No other team in program history had made it to a state final until this year, but the dignity and joy from these players who helped lay the foundation to get to this point is on full display.
"I have such a sense of pride about talking about North football now," said Segobiano, last year's Kane County Chronicle Football Player of the Year. Segobiano is now part of the football program at Northern Illinois.
"Even a year out of it, a year removed, I can kind of hang my hat like 'yeah, I'm an alum there, I graduated, I played there.' And, they're about to go hopefully win and compete for a state championship."
Hohensee, North's starting quarterback last year, is now at Northwest Missouri State. He has kept tabs on his successors, Peyton and Kyler Brown, from afar.
"I think it's awesome how Kyler has basically dedicated this season to Peyton, and Peyton has dedicated the season to mentoring Kyler," Hohensee said. "They're doing a great job, both of them, leading the team and that's probably a huge reason why they're at state right now."
Segobiano has observed Peyton Brown embrace and love the coaching role he's taken on.
"During games...there's a play, he's always the first one batting a dude on the helmet," Segobiano said. "If something bad happens, he's always the first one encouraging him."
"I'll be honest, If I went through what Peyton went through, I don't think I'm doing what he's doing now," Segobiano continued. "I'm probably checking out [and] I'm saying 'It's time.'"
"Two season-ending injuries in a row, as an 18-year-old, I have so much respect for that kid."
Keegan then chimed in: "Not only him, but [running back] Sam DeMarco, too."
"He's been there for his brother [Nick] and the whole team," Keegan said. "It's cool to come back and see Peyton, Sam, even losing out middle linebacker [Dan Daley], it's huge."
Keegan initially committed to Wisconsin-Platteville, but has since transferred to Illinois State and does not play football anymore.
"We've been the underdogs every week in the playoffs...the thing is, we're a couple plays away from being 9-0." Keegan said.
Segobiano is happy for the entire team, but says he's most happy for Pomazak.
Segobiano was reading an online high school football forum ahead of the Wheaton Warrenville South playoff game, where North later won 21-10.
"Everybody was basically saying 'Pom doesn't have the experience, the Wheaton South coach does.' And, 'Pom's never been to a quarterfinal,'" Segobiano said.
Pomazak and the team then proved everyone wrong.
Segobiano then reverted to a story about his sophomore season, in 2015. The North Stars went 7-3, and he played safety. The North Stars lost to Benet 21-14 in the first round of the playoffs.
"I was getting playbook cut-ups at 3:30-4 a.m. on a school night," Segobiano said. "It just shows how hard he's going, and we didn't really have that much yet."
"Now, it's all paying off for him."