2023 Northwest Herald Football Coach of the Year: Cary-Grove’s Brad Seaburg

Trojans rebounded from disappointing 2022 season to win Class 6A state title

Cary-Grove Head Coach Brad Seaburg smiles after receiving his state champion medal Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, after their win over East St. Louis in the IHSA Class 6A state championship game in Hancock Stadium at Illinois State University in Normal.

Cary-Grove experienced a season without playoffs last season for the first time since 2003.

The Trojans had been to the playoffs every year the current players had been alive.

But aside from being excellent with X’s and O’s, C-G coach Brad Seaburg is masterful with psychology. He urged his players to find something positive from the disappointment of 2022.

“We got off to the offseason a lot earlier,” Seaburg said at a practice last summer. “We had five extra weeks of lifting. So you turn negatives into positives if you look at it that way.”

Few teams ever did a better job turning negatives into positives. The Trojans went from 3-6 to 12-2 and defeated East St. Louis 23-20 for the Class 6A state championship. It was C-G’s fourth state title in school history, its second in three years.

Seaburg’s teams are an amazing 17-1 in their last 18 playoff games and have beaten mighty East St. Louis for their last two state titles.

Seaburg was the overwhelming choice as the Northwest Herald Football Coach of Year. He is 125-28 in 13 seasons as Trojans coach and has been to five state title games as head coach, along with two when he was an assistant on former coach Bruce Kay’s staff.

Former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink does a podcast that Seaburg enjoys. He draws motivation from things Willink’s perspective which he used with his team last year. During the state championship celebration the day after winning the title, Seaburg spoke about Willink frequently using the word “good.”

Seaburg then provided examples.

“If it’s raining, we have to practice in the rain, good,” said Seaburg, who also was Coach of the Year in 2012, 2018 and 2021. “It teaches you how to play in the rain. If you have injuries or setbacks, good. It’ll teach you to handle adversity. You lose to Burlington Central in overtime (in 2022), break the streak (17 consecutive seasons in the playoffs), good.

“Lose to Prairie Ridge by one point, good. Lose to Huntley, good. East St. Louis petitions up to 6A, good. Down 20-15 in fourth quarter with the state championship on the line with our warriors, good.”

C-G finished the state championship game with an epic 19-play, 71-yard drive that ate up 10:37 of the clock and ended with fullback Logan Abrams’ 2-yard, game-winning touchdown run.

Seaburg answered a few questions from Northwest Herald sports writer Joe Stevenson about the Trojans’ trip from being out of the playoffs to the state title.

Head Coach Brad Seaburg addresses the audience during a celebration of the IHSA Class 6A Cary-Grove football team at the high school Sunday.

What will you remember most about this season?

Seaburg: I will remember how much we improved throughout the season. Our team from Week 1 to Week 14 was so different and our kids got so much better. As strange as it sounds, I’ll remember our two losses this year as well, and how our kids responded to some tough losses (each by one point to Prairie Ridge and Huntley).

How did your team go from 3-6 to state champion in one season?

Seaburg: We got more competitive and stronger. We wanted our guys to compete better, especially in the closer games, so we pushed playing other sports big-time. Forty-seven of our 62 varsity players this year played two or three sports last year. We had more kids go out for lacrosse for the first time, join track, wrestle, etc. We also were as strong as we’ve ever been as a program. We had 33 kids squat 315 or more last year. The previous best was 25 in 2021.

Was there a point where you started to think this team could all the way and bring home another title?

Seaburg: When we beat a very talented Libertyville team convincingly in the first round (49-6), we felt like we had a great chance. Our offense was really taking off, and our defense played at a championship level that game and throughout the playoffs. After the Libertyville game, we quietly were thinking we could get to the championship game.

This is a repeat question from the Q&A’s before, when you said former NBA coach Hubie Brown and Harding (Ark.) University coach Kenny Wheaton (an option guru) were your favorite speakers. Who is someone else you have heard since who you really liked?

Seaburg: Dewayne Alexander from Tennessee Tech on his pass offense. He’s a very good presenter and puts things in very simple terms. I also enjoyed listening to (Richmond-Burton’s) Mike Noll and (Byron’s) Jeff Boyer a few years ago. Both coaches are detail-oriented and do a great job with their programs.

Who had the biggest effect on you as a coach?

Seaburg: I was fortunate to grow up in Marengo in the 1990s. At Marengo, we had great coaches (too many to name because I’ll forget some) who not only were excellent coaches, but loyal, committed men who had high standards and were great teachers of fundamentals. My brothers and I always talk about how lucky we were to be around the adult male role models at Marengo during that time, as they all had lasting impacts on our lives.

What are three of your favorite Christmas movies?

Seaburg: I’m a huge fan of Christmas so this is tough. “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Christmas Vacation” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

What is a sports movie line that you and your coaches often use during lighter moments?

Seaburg: We quote “Stripes” and “Caddyshack” quite often, so here’s one from “Stripes.” (Army recruiter): “Have you ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor?” (John Winger): “Convicted? No.” Russell Ziskey: “Never convicted.”

Who are some college or NFL coaches you really admire?

Seaburg: Anyone who teaches football to be played with physicality and discipline. Alabama coach Nick Saban, he never wavers from his beliefs and his style. Players always are physical and tough or they leave. San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, I love watching his teams run the ball and play physical football.

What do you do more now that you have more free time?

Seaburg: What is free time?

If you played baseball, what would be your walk-up song?

Seaburg: Anything by Kid Rock.