NEW LENOX – As the summer went on and his first season as head football coach at Lincoln-Way Central drew closer, Jeremy Cordell saw his team starting to develop a sense of urgency.
“We’ve created that atmosphere where our kids know that our time is now,” Cordell said. “We’re going to approach every practice like it’s our last and work like it’s our last.
“These kids understand how important this football season is and the impact they can have. Football season is a special time. How they play can change the whole climate of a school.”
Last season, the Knights brought renewed enthusiasm to the school, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Before that drought, Central had made the postseason 15 straight years.
“I love Central and I want to be able to put it back on the map, back to the point where we’re able to make the playoffs 15 years in a row again,” senior offensive and defensive lineman Bryan Ditchman said.
“Last year, making the playoffs was great and this year it’s an expectation. I think everyone is getting on board with that and looking to bring back the culture ofLincoln-Way Central.”
Cordell, who qualified for the playoffs in the past four of his five seasons at the helm of Glenbard South, has made one thing clear to his team: the playoffs aren’t a goal, they’re an expectation.
“I know the kids understand that we expect to be there,” he said. “We’re focused on week by week, and the goal is to be 1-0 every week. We want to be playing our best football of the season.”
Ditchman, who is committed to Florida International, a NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision program, will be a key factor for the Knights this season. He’s the team’s only returning starter on offense and one of three on defense.
Ditchman is accustomed to being a leader.
“I think even my freshman year people looked up to me,” he said. “My sophomore year to now, I think I’ve been one of the leaders, vocally, on this team. The past two years I wasn’t named a captain, but I was a voice on the team that people listened to.
“I make sure everyone’s doing what they’re supposed to. Discipline is huge. I make sure all the little things that people don’t always pay attention to are getting done. Getting the little things done leads to the big things.”
Cordell also expects big things from senior quarterback Austin Strilko.
“He’s a good athlete and a good quarterback,” Cordell said. “He already has an offer from [NCAA Division II] Henderson State. I think he’s going to surprise some people this year.”
Strilko is just as big of a fan of Cordell.
“I love our new coach,” he said. “He’s a great guy. He puts us before everything. We’re like his kids. He loves us all and we love playing for him.”
Seniors Nolan Hayes and Ryan Foster figure to be two of Strilko’s favorite targets.
Defensively, junior linebackers Jake Dudeck and Nico Mutowill be keys to a young unit. Cordell expects a large number of underclassmen to contribute defensively.
Strilko said chemistry will be a major asset.
“In the beginning of the summer, I think we started out rough,” he said. “We weren’t playing together. We weren’t playing for each other. But as the summer went on, we all started playing for each other. We all love each other. We all want to win as a team. That’s our main goal.
“In the end, it comes down to heart. If someone has better talent than us, it doesn’t really matter. We just need to believe in ourselves.”
KNIGHTS AT A GLANCE
Coach: Jeremy Cordell
2014 record: 5-5, 4-3 in SouthWest Suburban Red
Classification enrollment: 1,869 (probable class 7A)
Offensive coordinator: Joe Boseo
Defensive coordinator: Jeremy Cordell
Returning offensive starter: OL Bryan Ditchman
Returning defensive starters: DL Bryan Ditchman, LB JakeDudeck, LB Nico Muto
August: 28 – at Huntley, 7:15 p.m.
September: 4 – Kaneland, 7:30 p.m.; 11 – Lincoln-Way West, 7:30 p.m.; 18 – at Bradley, 7:30 p.m.; 25 – Thornwood, 7:30 p.m.
October: 2 – at Thornridge, 7:30 p.m.; 9 – Andrew, 7:30 p.m.; 16 – Lincoln-Way North, 7:15 p.m.; 23 – at Thornton, 7:30 p.m.