MINOOKA – A group of Minooka linemen broke from their huddle at practice, shouted “1-2-3 playoffs” and cooled off with a little water.
The Indians, who came within a game of reaching the playoffs last year, are keeping the postseason in mind amid the preseason sweat.
Senior David Newman, a returning offensive lineman who likely will play both ways, acknowledged last year’s 4-5 record serves as motivation for 2015.
“Definitely, definitely,” Newman said. “Our goal is, minimum, make the playoffs.”
Eight returning starters on defense and six on offense give Minooka plenty of experience to draw from this season.
“That’s more than we had last year,” coach Paul Forsythe said. “A lot of guys got experience that are seniors.”
At the top of that list is Blake Parzych, a 6-foot-3, 255-pound defensive end who had nine sacks and nearly set the school record for tackles for loss.
With junior Johnny Carnagio back at quarterback, Minooka has two valuable pieces of the puzzle in place.
“Anytime you can get a returning starting quarterback, that’s huge,” Forsythe said. “Any level, when you feel like you have a quarterback – and I feel like we do – that’s a big piece.
“And from my thinking, if we have a quarterback, do we have someone who can rush the quarterback? I feel like we do in Parzych. So, we’ve got a quarterback and a guy who can rush the passer and stop the run on the edge.”
Minooka opponents no longer have to stop standout running back Nate Gunn, who has moved on to the University of South Dakota.
“You can’t really replace Nate Gunn. He was a big-time player for us,” Parzych said. “We’ve got a new way of running our offense. I’m excited to see how it works out.”
Carnagio, who threw for 1,200 yards last season as a sophomore, will lead the offense.
“He’s up for it,” Forsythe said. “If he plays well, the offense is probably going to do well. If he doesn’t play well, the offense could struggle. He understands that.”
Mike Malinowski, Drew Turek and Jaccor Blankey will be counted on at running back. Newman at guard and fellow returnee Austin Sims at center will bolster the offensive line.
Returning receivers Jake Adams, Alex Roop and Quintin Durov, along with promising junior Isaiah Hill, will give Carnagio several targets.
The defense has experience at almost every position. Parzych, Anthony Capecci and Adam Nelli up front, linebackers Carson Oughton, Kenny Kirkland and Matt Brozovich and safeties Jack Sasso and Kris Ledesma all started last season.
“A lot of those guys have a lot of leadership,” Newman said. “I lead by example. I’m not a big vocal guy.”
“This year, we’ve got a little closer of a team,” said Parzych, who is being recruited by Southern Illinois, Western Illinois, South Dakota, Butler and Air Force. “A lot of starters are back. The junior class might not have all the size in the world, but we definitely have some athletes on this roster.”
Grundy County neighbor Morris and Providence are off the schedule. Minooka will start its season Friday at Stagg in Palos Hills, followed by the home opener Sept. 4 against Lockport. Both teams were 3-6 last year.
“At least with Morris, there was some familiarity with what they want to do offensively and defensively,” Forsythe said. “Stagg, there’s so many unknowns. That’s a concern.”
Minooka will host Romeoville in the Indians’ Southwest Prairie Conference opener Sept. 11.
“When I look at the conference, I think Oswego at the top and Plainfield North right there,” Forsythe said. “Plainfield East has some nice football players. It’s wide open in the middle always.”
INDIANS AT A GLANCE
Coach: Paul Forsythe
2014 record: 4-5, 3-4 in Southwest Prairie
Classification enrollment: 2,491 (probable class 8A)
Offensive coordinator: Paul Forsythe
Defensive coordinator: Bert Kooi
Returning offensive starters: QB Johnny Carnagio, WR Jake Adams, Alex Roop, Quintin Durov, G David Newman, C Austin Sims
Returning defensive starters: DL Blake Parzych, Anthony Capecci, Adam Nelli, LB Carson Oughton, Kenny Kirkland, Matt Brozovich, S Jack Sasso, Kris Ledesma
August: 28 – at Stagg, 7 p.m.
September: 4 – Lockport, 7 p.m.; 11 – Romeoville, 7 p.m.; 18 – at Oswego, 7 p.m.; 26 – at Plainfield Central, 1 p.m.
October: 2 – Plainfield East, 7:30 p.m.; 9 – Plainfield South, 7 p.m.; 16 – at Oswego East, 7 p.m.; 23 – Plainfield North, 7 p.m.