FRANKFORT – When a program has the distinction of being the only one in the state to have reached the playoffs in each season of its existence, during which time it owns a 134-32 record, expectations are understandably always high.
Then throw in the fact that it has a back who rushed for more than 1,500 yards a year ago as well as strong lines on offense and defense, and you might have something special.
That’s the scenario that Rob Zvonar is looking at in his 15th season as Lincoln-Way East coach. The Griffins are hoping to enjoy more success than last season, when they went 10-2, were 7-0 in the SouthWest Suburban Blue and reached the Class 7A quarterfinals.
“Offensively, we’ll have the ability to be balanced and hopefully be able to run and pass,” Zvonar said. “Having an offense where defenses can’t key on just one or two individuals, we’ll be able to spread the ball around and do a lot of things, so we’re excited about that.
“And on defense, the kids have done a nice job getting coverages and schemes down. We feel like they’re athletic, and hopefully, they’ll be a relentless group that’s physical, as well.”
Leading the offense will be senior running back Liam Morrissey, who rushed for 1,551 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. He’ll be joined in the backfield by Nigel Muhammad and by senior quarterback Brandon Bauer.
“Obviously with the return of Liam, we’re excited about our running game,” Zvonar said. “Nigel has developed into a great complement to him and it’s kind of a Mr. Inside-Mr. Outside kind of thing if we decide to go with two backs.
“As good as we hope the running game is, it all starts with our quarterback, Brandon, who’s the leader of this football team both on and off the field. He was certainly good enough to play last year as a junior but was behind an all-stater in Mike Weller.”
In the passing game, Bauer will look to tight end Hunter Smith and a deep receiver corps featuring Brody Bolsoni, John McGinn, Logan Winkler and Jeremy Nelson.
Senior Doug Barkauski leads the offensive line at center and Illinois-bound Kurt Gavin holds down one of the tackle spots. Others along the offensive line include seniors Nick Ronza, Tyler Lentz and Mike Lemmons and junior Sam Diehl.
“All of those things are great but it doesn’t mean much unless you have some guys up front leading the way,” Zvonar said. “What we’re most excited about this year on both sides of the ball is our offensive and defensive lines. We have a chance to be as good up front on both sides of the ball as we have been in awhile.”
There’s similar strength along the defensive line with seniors Ben Christensen, Dan Cooper, Steve Ogbonna, Nick Straka and Trevor Goldyn leading the way.
Middle linebacker Pat Carr and outside linebacker Brian Burns are returning starters while Ross Nelson, Geoff Quinn and Tyler Spizzirri should contend for the other spots.
In the secondary, senior Jayison McCorkle returns at free safety. Jake Jansto and Sean Reyna should compete for the other safety spot while Kyle Werniak and Sean Maloney are expected to be at cornerback.
Zvonar feels Nick Jenig should be one of the top kickers in the Chicago area.
“We’re predominantly a senior team and we don’t mind if we’re starting all seniors, even if they didn’t play much as juniors,” Zvonar said. “But it’s also nice to have kids out there who cut their teeth quite a bit a year ago when the game was on the line.”
GRIFFINS AT A GLANCE
2014 record: 10-2, 7-0 SouthWest Suburban Blue
Coach: Rob Zvonar
Classification enrollment: 2,153 (probable class 7A)
Offensive coordinator: Joel Pallissard
Defensive coordinators: Matt Mrozek, Rob Zvonar
Returning offensive starters: RB Liam Morrissey, TE Hunter Smith, OL Doug Barkauski, OL Kurt Gavin, OL Nick Ronza, OL Sam Diehl, PK Nick Jenig.
Returning defensive starters: DL Ben Christensen, DL Dan Cooper, DL Steve Ogbonna, DL Nick Straka, LB Pat Carr, LB Brian Burns, SS Jayison McCorkle.
Friday: at Oak Park and River Forest, 7:30 p.m.
September: 4 – Lincoln Park, 7:30 p.m.; 11 – at Joliet West, 6:30 p.m.; 18 – Stagg, 7:30 p.m.; 25 – at Bolingbrook, 7 p.m.
October: 2 – Lockport, 7:30 p.m.; 9 – at Homewood-Flossmoor, 7:30 p.m.; 17 – at Joliet Central, 1 p.m.; 23 – Carl Sandburg, 7:30 p.m.