LINCOLN PARK — Lincoln Park High School might want to rethink that new weight room it got this fall.
After the Lions distinguished themselves with a 32-12 loss to downstate powerhouse Alton in the state football playoffs on Friday, coach Vince DeFrancesco credited the necessity of outdoor weight training last summer with leading to what turned out to be an 8-2 season and a conference championship.
Before the new weight room was completed as part of the renovation project last summer at Lincoln Park High, the floor was sagging under the weight of the old weight room. So they went out and bought a shed at Home Depot and moved it outdoors.
"We actually created a weight room outside," DeFrancesco said Monday. "We started doing outdoor workouts. And that's when we knew we had a special group of kids, who were willing to do that, who were working out in 98-degree weather over the summer every day."
It was DeFrancesco's third year coaching football at the school, and the third straight year the Lions made the state football playoffs. DeFrancesco said he'd stressed the importance of the players hitting the weights just to compete in the Illinois High School Association Class 7A for schools with enrollments between 1,889 and 2,364 students.
"The 7A field is really the bigger schools," DeFrancesco said. "It's a really challenging bracket. It's us and Simeon in that 7A field" among top Chicago Public Schools football programs.
The end result was an honorable 32-12 loss to Alton in the first round of the state grid playoffs Friday night at Lane Stadium. Principal Michael Boraz described it as a "very physical game," but also congratulated the Lions on a "great season."
"It really felt like we belonged on the field," he said. "We know we're good enough to be in this bracket. We know we're good enough to be in this conference and class."
To put things in perspective, downstate Alton, which plays in a competitive conference including East St. Louis and two Belleville high schools, peaked late in the season, winning three of its last four games going into the playoffs and scoring 50 points in each of those victories. So holding them to 32 was a moral victory.
As for the Lions themselves, they won their football conference for the first time, and pretty much outclassed the local competition, winning by scores of 53-0 over Schurz, 48-0 over Steinmetz and 46-0 over Lake View.
DeFrancesco credited his assistant coaches, but also the team's senior leadership, 16 players, including quarterback Jake Dowell and his co-captains linemen Guiovanni Hernandez, Salvador Gonzalez and Angel Cortes, who also played fullback on offense.
"I'd like to give some credit to the offensive and defensive line," he said, "because they're the guys who kind of go unnoticed all year." That included senior linemen Phillip Taylor and Davian Day.
They were sophomores when he arrived at the school, DeFrancesco said, but immediately committed to what he was trying to achieve.
"They grew together a lot. Those are the kids who just killed it in the weight room," he added. "That's really what separated us from a lot of our competitors."
The Lions will lose those 16 seniors, some of whom might soon be entertaining scholarship offers, but compared to what DeFrancesco had to work with when he arrived — with about a dozen players on the football team — they now have a program in place with 67 on the squad.
"We're going to be young up front," he said. "We're going to have a new face at quarterback. But we have a wealth of talent.
"There are going to be a few holes," DeFrancesco added, "but that's what the offseason is for. We have a really good group to move forward with."
And who knows, maybe that new weight room will actually prove to be a benefit in the long run.