Iron "Orr" Curtain
Heading into week 6 of the Illinois high school football season, the Spartans have managed to go 5-0 after recording a 3-4 record last season. They’ve averaged 41 points a game on offense, which puts them towards the top of total points scored in the state, but what is really impressive is the fact that their defense hasn’t given up a point all year.
The Spartans are just a few games away from becoming one of a handful of schools that have shutout records in one or more categories in the state’s record books. Depending on how the Spartans do in an Intra-City Conference playoff, they could be in very selective list that includes the Pittsfield team from the late 1960’s, but first the Spartans will need to finish their regular season.
Orr head coach Kevin Jackson claims to be the offensive specialist on the team and Raymond Pittman, who is also the schools athletic director takes up the reigns as the defensive coordinator. They both think that a big reason why they’re having success this season is due to summer camps for both the players & coaches.
Pittman said that him & Jackson are all about getting out to coaches clinics. One of the recent ones that turned out to be very helpful was put together by the Bears and Lovie Smith. “We went up to Lake Forest for a coaches clinic with Lovie (Chicago Bear’s head coach) and got a lot of good stuff from that. I was able to sit down with Ron Rivera (Bear’s defensive coordinator) and really pick his brain on running the cover 2”
While Jackson & Pittman were in Lake Forest, a lot of their players were involved in a summer camp at Hanson Stadium in Chicago. “They got a lot instruction from a bunch of different coaches and that’s carried over and helped to get us where we are now.” Jackson said.
While, the 4 of the 5 games Orr has played so far were against other Intra-City North teams (this is the Chicago Public Schools division for beginning or underachieving football programs), the fact that they are in this division means they are playing against teams of equal ability.
Head coach Kevin Jackson made no attempt to place his squad with some of the states elite teams. “We’re dressing maybe 22, 23 kids a week. Out of them, maybe 12 are juniors & seniors, the rest is filled in from the sophomore team.”
Pittman added that, the seniors they’ve got have been starting all four years, “That helps out a lot. They’ve got the defense that we’ve been running for a few years now down pat. Even our Spartan Blitz.”
Pittman didn’t have an exact number, but on top of not allowing any points, the Spartans have given up just around 120 yards of total on defense.
The core of the Orr defense is made up “The Twins” James & Thomas Mendenhall at linebacker, Johtavoin Bryant at safety, Denzel Whitaker at corner, and Greg Stackhouse at defensive end.
James Mendenhall plays it very cool about the defense’s start “We don’t really think about it. We just go out there and play the game we play every week. If you start thinking about the shut out, it’s more likely that it’s not going to happen.”
Thomas believes that they do have an advantage over most of the teams they’ve played because they’ve been training really hard, but he knows that some of the teams on their schedule do have good players that can beat them. “Teams like Austin & Calumet can play, but we know we have to train hard, because we believe that the next [opponent] is training just as hard as we are.”
James admits that it may creep up in the defensive huddle late in a game, but adds, “They tell us to bend not break. So we can give up a big play as long as we don’t give up the touchdown. We can give up some yards, just not the score.”
“It really wasn’t till the fourth game, that’s when they got into it and really saw that it could be something special.” Jackson said about the teams point allowed total. “Then it went from winning to, ‘we gotta shut ‘em out’.”
The coaches are making sure to stay on top of the players and keep them focused on winning. Pittman laid it out pretty simple, “We make sure we stay on them. We grade them after watching film and last week they got a C+. We’ve always got room for improvement.” Last week’s score was 52-0 over Raby.
Jackson & Pittman’s main goal is to put together a couple of winning seasons so the school can go from the Intra City division to the Chicago Division (eligible for the Prep-Bowl playoffs) and then finally onto the Illini division, where the Spartans would be able to make the state playoffs.
Jackson points to the Chicago Public league standings, showing the different divisions, pointing to where they’re trying to get the team to go. “We’ve got some sophomores starting on defense now and if we do good these next two years, they might have a chance at the state playoffs.”
Everyone from the Mendenhall brothers to coach Pittman agrees, staying focused on winning is the main thing, not worrying about the shutouts. When asked what the likelihood of the Spartans continuing their streak, Pittman remarks, “We just need to stay focused and we think the results will be the same. We aren’t going to do anything different so it will be up to [other teams] to make adjustments to us.”