Features | Friday Night Drive

Drew Gerke prepared to play major role in Batavia passing game

Bulldogs, Geneva continue to sort things out at Kaneland 7-on-7

BATAVIA – Watching film from last season, Drew Gerke identified at least one key area for himself – or most any receiver for that matter – he needed to clean up.

“Working on releases [off the line of scrimmage] probably [is] the biggest,” the Batavia senior wideout said during a 7-on-7 event July 19 at Kaneland High School. “Being smaller [5-foot-11], once [defenders] get hands on … it’s pretty difficult to get to a route to where we need to be once the defense gets hands on receivers.”

Gerke, who is nursing a fractured middle finger suffered in practice two weeks ago but is participating, still feels “probably the best I’ve ever been.”

“Coming off track [season], my endurance has increased by a lot,” Gerke said. “My body feels great right now, other than the finger, obviously.”

Gerke is projected to be a major piece of Batavia’s passing attack. He’s one of just two varsity players on Batavia’s roster who recorded a varsity catch last season. Gerke finished second in catches (23) behind graduated senior AJ Sanders and third overall in receiving yards (296).

Luke Alwin is expected to be another major piece, but other contributors are still coming into focus as spots are being finalized in the weeks before Batavia’s season opener against Phillips on Aug. 27 in Chicago.

Pat McNamara, who served as the varsity kicker last year, also will be at a receiver position. McNamara put on 10 pounds since last season.

“It feels great, honestly, to be in a skill position here. I’ve been around the environment,” McNamara said. “To actually be part of the offense is really cool.

“I think I play my role. Just try to get open the best I can. Just catch everything that’s thrown my way.”

McNamara, an unknown commodity at receiver, feels “like I’ve got a lot to prove this season.”

“I think that puts a chip on my shoulder. It motivates me to work harder,” McNamara said.

Play-calling and personnel packages will dictate route combinations. McNamara projects to be a secondary read with Gerke generally the first read for Ryan Boe, who is expected to be the starting quarterback.

“I grew up with Ryan,” McNamara said. “It helps a lot. He’s been throwing to me since elementary school. I feel like that connection really helps.”

Geneva reshaping offense

Finalizing Geneva’s offense arguably is one of coach Boone Thorgesen‘s top to-do’s with the season quickly approaching.

The Vikings graduated their entire offensive line from last season, as well as starting quarterback Alex Porter and their workhorse back in Carter Powelson from a team that made its first postseason appearance in six years.

”I like our guys. They’re willing to work,” Thorgesen said. “They’re willing to learn to get better. We’ve got a lot of turnover, but sometimes that’s a good thing because they don’t know anything. They don’t know any better. They don’t know what a Friday Night Lights is. So just seeing them out there eating up every opportunity, that’s our big motto. … We’ve just got to continue to get better.”

Competition for spots is ongoing. At quarterback, Nate Stempowski – a baseball standout – and Tony Chahino are the names to keep an eye on.

“They both have skill sets,” Thorgesen said. “It’s just seeing what they do the best and how we can utilize it to our advantage. They’re coachable. They want to be good. They want to get better, so working with young quarterbacks, that’s what you need to see and you can build upon it from there.”

With the offensive line taking shape, it’s a “learning process.”

”That‘s the great thing. It‘s a full summer,” Thorgesen said “We’ve been getting stronger. We put an emphasis on getting stronger. We know we have to. It’s an open competition. We told our lineman, we told everybody here, we’re going to play the best guys. ... We’re going to find the five best and we’re going to roll with it.”