COUNTRY CLUB HILLS | When Tom Padjen talked to his T.F. South football team after Friday's 47-0 South Suburban Blue win over Hillcrest, the veteran coach put it simply: "It's like the country song. 'Life's not always beautiful, but it has been a beautiful ride.' I am sure you guys listen to country music ... U.S. 99."
The players chuckled, not at Padjen, but at his asking them if they listened to country music.
Padjen's statement was true of this year's team. The team did not have it all together early and it was a bumpy ride. In the long run, it cost them a ride to the IHSA playoffs. That does not happen too often at T.F. South. This is just the third time in the last 18 years the Rebels will not be in the postseason. All five of their losses were to playoff teams.
After a devastating overtime loss to District 215 rival T.F. North, the Rebels were 1-5 and winless at home. It would have been real easy to call it a day and a season. Sure, they put themselves in a bad position, but they did something about it.
Starting 1-5 is not true T.F. South form, but bouncing back when it seemed as if the walls were caving in, is T.F. South football. South finished with a three-game winning streak and beat Shepard and Tinley Park, both which are headed to postseason play.
"I am proud of you guys, how you faced adversity and came through," Padjen told his team. "Seniors, you fought hard and never gave up."
For the seniors, they did show what they are made of. If athletics teach life's lessons, then when they face a tougher crisis in their adult lives, they can point to this season and how they didn't give up.
If South were a few miles east, the team would be preparing for the playoffs as in Indiana, all teams qualify. The Rebels would definitely have some momentum going into the postseason. None of the kids used that as a crutch.
"We knew what we had to do and we didn't do it early," senior Tre'Von Hughes said. "If we had won another game or two, we would be in the playoffs, but we didn't."
Padjen won't groan either.
"You have to earn your way in and we didn't," Padjen said.
For the juniors, there is the challenge for next year -- get back to postseason. There is a good nucleus and despite a tough season, you can learn from how the seniors stepped up and learn how to take care of business early.
Everyone who plays for South is aware of the pride of the program. Friday nights in Lansing are big thing. Football is a community thing and as there are different forms of entertainment, Lansing has kept that small-town feel on Friday nights.
The seniors have passed the baton to the juniors and left on a good note.
This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.