Just a 15-year-old sophomore, Stevenson cornerback Matt Morrissey is still finding his way as a starter on varsity.
Heck, he's still trying to find his way around the hallways of his gigantic school, often referred to as Stevenson University.
But one thing Morrissey doesn't need to be schooled on is the importance of Stevenson's rivalry with neighboring Libertyville, the Patriots' homecoming opponent on Friday night. He got an education on that real early in life.
Morrissey's older brother Mike, eight years his senior, also played football for the Patriots. And Matt, a ball boy for Stevenson when he was in grade school, remembers vividly how much more intense and emotional Mike got during Libertyville week.
Year in and year out, Stevenson and Libertyville are among the best teams in Lake County and the rivalry between the two programs is one of the most heated in the state.
"He would always get so excited. There was just something different about Mike during Libertyville week," Matt Morrissey said of brother, who went on to play football at Boston College. "It was an emotional game for him. I really picked up on that atmosphere by being around him and the team (as a ball boy). Now, this is a game that I always look for on the schedule. This is a big game for the Morrissey family."
Morrissey certainly played to the occasion in the rivalry game's 2011 edition. He made some key plays in Stevenson's 13-0 North Suburban Conference Lake Division victory over Libertyville.
"Our entire defense played well," Stevenson coach Bill McNamara said. "We have a really good mixture of size and speed on defense and we just didn't give up any big plays tonight."
Morrissey made sure of it.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Stevenson, which moves to 4-1 overall and 3-0 in division play, was clinging to its 13-0 advantage when the Libertyville offense suddenly came to life. The Wildcats drove from their own 20-yard line down to the Stevenson 10-yard line in about five minutes.
Libertyville, which falls to 3-2 (1-1 Lake), used three downs to advance to the 3-yard line and had one more chance to punch the ball in for a score. But Morrissey broke up a pass by Libertyville quarterback Hutch Herchenbach that was fired into the end zone.
That fourth-down stand by the Stevenson defense also essentially broke up any hopes Libertyville had of mounting a comeback in head coach Randy Kuceyeski's last game in the rivalry.
Kuceyeski, who has been coaching at Libertyville for 31 years and has spent the last 18 years as head coach, is retiring at the end of the school year and was presented a framed jersey from Stevenson officials prior to the game. He says that, thanks in large part to Stevenson's defense, he is now 15-16 in games against Stevenson.
"We just wanted to get that stop on the goalline," said Morrissey, who also played Stevenson's first series at quarterback and completed both of his passes for 20 yards. "We didn't want them to put any points on the board."
Stevenson put its first points on the board with 2:52 left in the first quarter on a 2-yard run by Kevin Foley. In hindsight, it seems appropriate that he got to score the Patriots' only touchdown. Foley was a workhorse from start to finish, running for 131 yards on 31 carries. The next most frequent runner for Stevenson was Christopher Peters, who had just 4 carries.
"I loved it," Foley said of the workload. "I mean, you get banged up, but that's part of the game. I just follow my offensive linemen. They were blocking their butts off for me.
"We've all been working our butts off to make sure we came out of this game with a win. This is a huge rivalry for us. "
Stevenson also got 2 field goals (28 yards, 26 yards) from Matt Micucci, who is the Patriots' starting quarterback. He was replaced by Morrissey for the first series because he had missed quite a bit of practice this week due to an injury.
Libertyville has also been switching back and forth between quarterbacks because of an injury to Herchenbach. He's been trying to play through back problems. He completed 6-of-13 passes for 43 yards and threw an interception on the Wildcats' last possession.
Junior quarterback Jack Deichl started the game and went 4-for-7 for 30 yards.
Overall, Libertyville mustered just 132 yards of total offense.
"Their defense played fantastic," Herchenbach said of Stevenson. "They had everyone covered down field and their linemen were getting pressure. Those guys are very quick. Some of our quick passes started working (on the fourth-quarter drive), but it was hard for us to get a lot of yards after the catch because Stevenson is so fast.
"We love playing these guys, though. I think both teams really respect each other."