Taft’s Ryan Porebski during practice on October 12, 2021. | Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times
Ryan Porebski was in the starting lineup as a freshman middle linebacker for Taft’s opener against St. Patrick that year, and he’s still there as a senior.
The summer before Ryan Porebski’s first year at Taft, he was practicing with all the other freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.
Zach Elder, then the Eagles’ defensive coordinator and now their coach, could see then that Porebski was special.
Knowing how front-loaded Taft’s schedule was, Elder thought maybe the best course would be to start Porebski on the lower levels before promoting him to the varsity after the game against Simeon in Week 4.
But John Coursey, a longtime college and high school coach who was working with Taft’s linebackers that year, had other ideas.
‘‘I’d start him [on varsity],’’ Coursey told Elder and the other Taft coaches.
‘‘This guy’s been coaching football forever,’’ Elder said of Coursey. ‘‘He’s a coach’s coach.’’
So Coursey’s words carried extra weight. And they were spot-on in assessing the newcomer.
Porebski was in the starting lineup as a freshman middle linebacker for Taft’s opener against St. Patrick that year, and he’s still there as a senior.
‘‘I wasn’t really expecting it,’’ said Porebski, who started playing football in the Oriole Park youth program as a third-grader. ‘‘At the same time, I wasn’t too nervous about it.’’
In one way, it was more of the same. Because of weight limitations, Porebski — who was mostly a lineman in his younger days — always played an age group up.
But there were differences, too, in the jump to high school ball.
‘‘I was really surprised with the crowd and the energy on the field,’’ Porebski said. ‘‘It was nothing like park-district football.’’
But the stage was never too big.
‘‘He’s the hardest-working, best kid we’ve ever coached,’’ Elder said. ‘‘He never seemed overwhelmed as a freshman.
‘‘Ryan practices every day like he’s a backup. He doesn’t take a single rep for granted. He’s our best practice player.’’
There’s also Porebski’s football IQ, which his coaches say is way above the norm.
‘‘He’s not just a linebacker; he’s the middle linebacker,’’ Elder said. ‘‘For four years, that kid has called our defenses.’’
Porebski’s drive to succeed has manifested itself in other ways, too. He played basketball as a freshman but switched to wrestling as a sophomore because he thought it would make him a better football player.
Taft wrestling coach Brad Engel, who’s also a football assistant, has seen Porebski’s blue-collar approach pay off in both sports. Porebski was a Public League JV champ in his rookie season, and he has been going toe-to-toe at 220 pounds in practice with two-sport teammate and state qualifier Grzegorz Krupa.
‘‘There’s a level of toughness that comes out of wrestling,’’ Engel said. ‘‘If you can survive that on a daily basis, it just amps it up for football.’’
Porebski, a 6-1, 214-pounder with a 4.8 grade-point average, wants to keep playing football after this year. So far, he has interest from Division III and NAIA schools, such as Augustana, Roosevelt, St. Norbert and Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
He has proved his value against top competition, making 22 tackles in a loss to Phillips and seven to go with three tackles for loss in a victory against Morgan Park.
Plus, Porebski’s workload has expanded this year. Strictly a one-way player in his first two years, Porebski also was a blocking back last year. With some players unavailable because of COVID protocols, Porebski was pressed into service as a running back this fall and had 133 yards and two touchdowns against Morgan Park.
As though he didn’t do enough already, Porebski also is the Eagles’ long snapper.
So somewhere, he hopes, there is a college that could use someone with his work ethic and skills.
‘‘I feel if I keep working hard and getting my film out there, someone will notice,’’ he said. ‘‘I know my time will come.’