The Tinley Bulldogs are a completely different team heading into the Super Bowl
TINLEY PARK, Ill. – When the Tinley Park Bulldogs began their preseason conditioning in July, coach Mike Fazekas felt like his team had the makings of something special.
He still felt that way after the Bulldogs lost to the New Lenox Warriors, 25-0, in the second game of the season, believing the setback would only motivate the 9- and 10-year-old football team to prove itself. On Sunday, the Bulldogs will get a chance to cap off a magical season in the Saint Xavier University lightweight Super Bowl against the only team to beat them this year.
While Fazekas isn’t taking anything away from the Bulldogs’ championship game opponent, he said the shutout loss earlier in the season wasn’t an indication of what his team can accomplish.
“We knew we had players in the right place to be able to give us this opportunity to go the distance,” Fazekas told Patch on Wednesday.
After losing to New Lenox, the Bulldogs (9-1) won six straight regular season games and reeled off back-to-back playoff victories to earn a spot in the championship game Sunday afternoon. However, despite the team’s current winning streak, Fazekas elected to pull game film of the Bulldogs’ lone loss during the team’s meet earlier this week.
The film session at North & Maple wasn’t meant to highlight the disappointing setback or remind you of the challenge the Bulldogs will face in the Super Bowl on Sunday. But instead, Fazekas said he used the opportunity to remind his players of the progress that has been made since then.
New Lenox took a 10-0 record into Sunday’s matchup, which is also a rematch of the 2015 Super Bowl lightweight championship, which the Bulldogs won 6-0.
“We’ve been a completely different team since then,” he said. “The kids have taken a lot of direction, gotten smarter, and are playing their positions better. It’s exciting to see how they’ve looked from the second week of the season until now. It’s a credit to all of them that they’ve followed practices, learned their positions, and done what they need to do to give themselves a chance to succeed.” .
“So the (film) session was to say, ‘Yes, we lost 25-0, but that’s not who we are anymore. … They’re not a 25-0 team anymore.’
In addition to his seven-member coaching staff, Fazekas said a core group of players he has coached since they were 6 years old pushed their teammates all season long. What started with preseason practices in the heat of the summer to endure some unfavorable weather conditions at times, the Bulldogs have developed the type of mentality that their coaches have allowed them to develop into a championship-caliber team.
Fazekas said many of the team’s key players play on both the offensive and defensive side of the football and served as a catalyst in allowing the Bulldogs to get through what could have been a devastating loss so early in the season.
Players like quarterback Tommy Fazekas, running back/linebacker Logan Durham, running back Joey Boogaard, and running back/linebacker Chase Hubbard pushed their teammates to continually improve from week to week. Not only has the steady change gone a long way in allowing the Bulldogs to no longer be defined by a shutout loss, but also develop into the type of team Fazekas and his coaching staff believed they had when the season began in July.
But the players are very aware of the community support they have received. From the coaching staff to the parent volunteers who helped raise money for uniforms and equipment to the team moms who provided food throughout the season, Fazekas said the Bulldogs’ championship effort has become a true team effort that extends beyond the roster of players.
He said the continued support allowed the players to focus on football as part of a season that Fazekas described as a “crazy success story” and a chance to be part of the lightweight program’s first Super Bowl appearance since 2015.
“Now, they just have to go out and play with confidence, intensity and the football they played last week that got them to this point,” Fazekas told Patch. “After all the distractions and stress, they’re ready. They’re excited to get another shot at New Lenox — it’s the one loss that sticks with them all year.
“We know New Lenox is a really tough team, but I think they’re up to the challenge and they’re excited to be on this championship field. They know they deserve it and it’s no coincidence that they’re there.”