Features | Friday Night Drive

St. Charles East embracing a ‘fresh start’ under first-year coach Nolan Possley

St. Charles East Coach Nolan Possley blows the whistle during practice at St. Charles East on Monday, Aug. 8, 2022.

ST. CHARLES – Nolan Possley now gets to put his own stamp on the next chapters of St. Charles East football.

Possley, a 2010 Saints graduate, former two-year varsity player and sophomore coach the previous three seasons, has taken over as varsity head coach. He replaced Bryce Farquhar earlier this year.

“I was in these guys’ shoes ... so I can relate to them in a lot of ways with that,” Possley said Monday, the first official IHSA-sanctioned day of football practice. “I do know all of these guys and I’ve been able to work with all these guys. … I keep saying: Things are going to be different and just embrace that. These guys have totally embraced that. We’ve done a lot of different things than we have in the past and they’ve really owned it and embraced it. Our summer was a lot of fun and they just really embraced the workload.”

The short list of some of the different things: position group tug-of-war challenges to close a given week of practice, a program-wide 24-hour lock-in at the school that featured camping out on the field and increased family involvement.

Blake Schuette chants during a huddle during practice at St. Charles East on Monday, Aug. 8, 2022.

Those are just a few ways of retooling a program that has experienced a two-year slump. St. Charles East posted a 2-7 record last season after a winless shortened spring season in 2021. Prior to that the Saints made four consecutive playoff appearances.

The Saints, to no surprise, are eager to turn the page together.

“They’ve all been really owning that mentality,” Possley said. “A big thing for them has just been put their heads down and get to work. Kind of the ‘work in silence’ thing has been what they’ve been saying all summer long. [They’re] going to do everything in their power to just make this a fresh start for all of them.”

One cornerstone returner is senior left tackle Austin Barrett, a recently named captain who will be a three-year starter.

“Culture is a big thing we’re trying to get established,” Barrett said in an interview Aug. 1 after his verbal commitment to Indiana University. “We want to be the most connected team possible. We’re not going to be able to function if we’re not working as a unit. That’s where we’re at right now. That’s why summer camp was so big for us. It was nailing in the leaders and establishing a culture that will help us win a [DuKane] Conference championship. Help us get to a playoff and help us get to the state finals.”

Left Tackle Austin Barrett runs a drill during practice at St. Charles East on Monday, Aug. 8, 2022.

To Barrett, that culture, in one word, is “disciplined.”

“This year, not only do we have a chip on our shoulder, but we have to win games,” Barrett said. “I’ve been on varsity going into my third year and I’ve won two varsity games. With the senior leaders we have now, including myself, there’s a zero-tolerance policy for screwing around. It’s strictly business.

“If we function as a unit, we’re going to win games. With our culture that we have now that we’re installing in our team, it’s going to help us eventually win those games.”

Third-year wide receiver Mason Tousignant has seen increased team bonding.

“I feel like [we were] a bunch of individuals and now, with coach Possley, we have more opportunities to team bond,” Tousignant said. “We’re playing more as a team, play better together and coach Possley just brings us to another level.

“Guys are competing. We’re coming out here during the weekend and putting in work. … I see us doing a lot better. We’re the underdogs this year. And I think teams will underestimate us and we’ll punch them in the mouth.”

St. Charles North aiming for postseason return

Across town, St. Charles North senior tight end Soren Erickson already knew the team bond was solid among the returners.

Now it’s about building on it just 15 days from the season opener against Palatine on Aug. 26.

“It’s just kind of reworking what we want to fix for this year, and over the summer I think we’ve done a really great job of doing so,” Erickson said. “I’m really excited of where we’re at right now and I think we’re only going to go up from here.”

After a disappointing 4-5 campaign last season, the North Stars are vying to get back to contending for a postseason berth for the first time since 2018.

“This year compared to last year, we’re doing a much better job getting to know each other,” junior tight end Jake Furtney said. “Going to the field even, just throwing routes. We’re just getting ready for the season.”

Drew Surges, a two-way standout at linebacker and running back, appears poised for another heavy workload. Paired with senior John Vendl, the two project to be atop the rotation of backs.

“I think [offensively] we’re a lot more comfortable with what we’re doing, and our plays, we’re running them a lot more crisp,” Surges said. “We’re getting the timing and the chemistry [down]. We’re trusting each other more and more every day.”