Lake Zurich High School has two former players who are now in the NFL and they'll both be at Soldier Field on Sept. 9 for the regular season opener. What were the chances of these longtime friends and teammates making it to the pros?
"Slim," according to Chicago Bears practice squad quarterback Matt Blanchard.
Blanchard and Colts offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo both lined up for Lake Zurich's football program, and also played as baseball teammates in 8th grade. Castonzo, who is a year older than Blanchard, attended Boston College and was the 22nd overall pick in last year's draft. Banchard is an undrafted free agent who signed to Chicago's practice squad after a strong preseason.
"How great is that?" Blanchard said. "You look at a school the size of Lake Zurich, a school in a small suburb outside of Chicago and you'd never guess it was even possible. But here we are. We've kept in touch and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing him on the field either before or after Sunday's game."
Blanchard wasn't at all certain that he'd make it to Soldier Field after being cut by the team before the preseason final. It turns out, Chicago waived him early so as to keep him off the radar of other NFL teams.
"It was tough," he said. "They tell you that you could be back on the practice squad, but you never really know for sure until that happens. When the call finally came, I was ecstatic. It is a lifelong dream of mine to play in the NFL.
"I'm an undrafted free agent and I know I'm incredibly lucky to be here. I'll work my way up the depth chart any way I can. I'm willing to accept any role I can in order to achieve the dream."
Blanchard's first job with the scout team will be to mirror the play of Andrew Luck, the Colts' formidable rookie quarterback, this week.
"Talk about a tall order," Blanchard said. "But I'll just be giving the defense a look at what he might do. It's a great way for me to build my skills and help out this team at the same time."
He said the entire offseason program, training camp and preseason have been a constant learning process.
"Camp was great. I learned so much but the main thing I got out of it was the chance to see just how much more I have to learn. It's all a matter of getting experience. Right now any reps, any time watching film, is beneficial to my progress. I understand that the learning curve is steep at my position but that challenge makes this experience that much more enjoyable."
During Blanchard's three years at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the team went 45-0. He completed 384 of 545 passes for 5,009 yards and 44 touchdowns. But playing in the NFL provided immediate challenges for the rookie – his preseason QB rating hovered at 47.4.
"Like I said, I have a long way to go. But the neat thing is that Anthony and I both made it this far. We couldn't be happier or more excited about that. It's such a fluke. Who would ever have guessed that two friends and teammates from Lake Zurich would be lining up in the pros?"
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.