NEW LENOX – With most football teams, the spotlight doesn’t shine too brightly on the linemen. At Lincoln-Way West, however, it’s pointed directly at the big men up front.
“Most places, it’s like if you get moved to the offensive line, people get upset,” West coach Dave Ernst said. “Here, we call it a promotion. There’s a lot of pride that those guys take in that group.”
The Warriors have become known for their offensive linemen, producing stars such as Colin McGovern, now at Notre Dame.
The line figures to be the strength of the team once again this season with Justin Witt, a tackle committed to North Carolina State, and Nebraska commit and guard Bryan Brokop leading the way. Also getting D-I looks is 6-foot-5, 310-pound junior Nate Henry.
“Offensive linemen are so important to your team,” Ernst said. “We’ve been really fortunate because we don’t get to go out and get these guys. We take who comes on the bus, and we’ve been really lucky to have the guys we’ve had.”
Witt said it’s a great experience playing on an offensive line that gets noticed.
“It’s really cool that people talk about our offensive line and people outside the school know about us,” he said. “It’s awesome knowing that we’re all going through the same things with recruiting, getting looks from colleges. And we’re probably the biggest offensive line in the state.”
With the line leading the way, West seems primed for a huge year offensively.
Quarterback Connor Lowman returns after starting as a sophomore last season. Senior running back Gabe Montalvo ran for 1,432 yards last season.
Ernst expects receivers Dylan McHale and Jake Mauney to have big seasons.
“The offense is definitely in a moving forward position with a junior quarterback in Connor that’s only going to get better and a senior running back in Gabe that’s going to help us out a lot,” Witt said.
Montalvo is determined to have an even bigger season this year.
“I definitely have a lot of confidence from last year, but I still want to be better,” he said. “I know I can always get better. It’s a motivating factor to try to top last year and just always try to get better and better.
“It’s nice running behind our line because all of the defensive linemen we face will be 10 times smaller than them. They make things so much easier on me.”
That feeling is mutual.
“It’s easy to block for Gabe,” Witt said. “He makes his own holes and he can run over anybody if you miss a block, so he’s a great running back to block for.”
Tight end Ben Zordani and fullback Tom LaBerry also are returning starters on offense.
Defensively, the Warriors bring back six starters. Ernst is especially high on junior linebacker Trey Telez, who received a Division I offer from Toledo as a sophomore.
Defensive end Dan Wainwright and defensive backs Cam Gavin and Cody Conry are senior leaders on the defense.
“Senior leadership has been great,” Ernst said. “This team is really a group. The offensive and defensive guys aren’t separated. They hang out together. They eat lunch together.”
West has had plenty of regular-season success in recent years. Last year, the Warriors went into the playoffs with an 8-1 mark and took out Morgan Park in the first round before falling to Richards, 34-27, in a second-round thriller.
Ernst, however, isn’t concerned with piling up the regular-season victories. He just wants another shot at the postseason.
“Our goal every year is to win five and make the playoffs,” he said. “We might get beat early in the year, but as long as we get to 5-4 and get better every day and make a run in the playoffs, that’s what matters. We’re not worried about going 9-0. We just want to peak at the right time.”
WARRIORS AT A GLANCE
Coach: Dave Ernst
2014 record: 9-2, 6-1 in SouthWest Suburban Red
Classification enrollment: 1,278 (probable class 5A/6A)
Offensive coordinator: Dom DeLuca
Defensive coordinator: Luke Lokanc
Returning offensive starters: G Bryan Brokop, FB TomLaBerry, QB Connor Lowman, RB Gabe Montalvo, T Justin Witt, TE Ben Zordani
Returning defensive starters: LB Danny Allen, DB Cody Conry, DB Cam Gavin, LB Trey Telez, DE Dan Wainwright
August: 28 – Sycamore, 7:30 p.m.
September: 5 – at Bloom, noon; 11 – at Lincoln-Way Central, 7:30 p.m.; 18 – Andrew, 7:30 p.m.; 25 – Thornton, 7:30 p.m.
October: 2 – at Thornwood, 7:30 p.m; 9 – Thornridge, 7:30 p.m; 16 – Bradley, 7:30 p.m.; 23 – at Lincoln-Way North, 7:15 p.m.