LOCKPORT – During summer workouts, the Lockport football team votes on a theme for the season.
It is seen on T-shirts, signs in the locker room and is a rallying point for the team.
This season that theme is “Brawl for the Barge.”
The story behind this saying has truly historical meaning for the town of Lockport and the I & M canal. Lockport’s longtime athletic trainer Joe Cunnane related the story to the “old days” of the canal, when barges were being towed by mules with handlers, they would come upon each other going in opposite directions. The young men – or “Porters” – of the barge would brawl to see who continued on their way first.
“It’s not about the brawl, it’s about tradition, pride in the team, school and community,” second-year coach Dan Starkey said.
“You battle for your town and community. It’s a never-give-up attitude and standing up for what you believe. The Porters have always had a tradition of working hard on the football field, making the community proud and we want to bring that all back.”
Lockport is coming off a 3-6 season in Starkey’s first with the team. The Porters have not reached the playoffs since 2011.
“We have game goals,” Starkey said. “We want to be 1-0 each week. Team goals are a process of all the individual goals we set each week.”
Playing in the SouthWest Suburban Blue, the Porters will open at home against Downers Grove North then will travel to Minooka in an intriguing local matchup before conference play begins.
With six returning starters on defense, the Porters are hoping to make a playoff run.
“We really need to make the stop on the third-and-short this season,” said Ryan Kelley, a 6-foot, 240-pound senior defense lineman.
“We have a lot of experience back on defense and our attitude is 100 percent better than last year. We have been working really hard this offseason to win each week and get to the playoffs.”
Echoing some of those same thoughts was returning outside linebacker Gabe Lammers, a 6-1, 205 senior.
“Conditioning is a big factor,” Lammers said. “Last year, we let some things slip away in the fourth quarter. We have worked hard at our conditioning. We also have great senior leadership on both sides of the ball.”
Seniors Brandon Wilson and Mo Atig join Lammers as returning starting linebackers. The defensive secondary will have seniors Derrius Rodgers and Deiondre Taylor returning.
“We have to have clean games mentally,” Rodgers said. “We are more together as a team this season, along with knowing the coaches and the schemes better.”
Taylor also will play a key role on the offensive side of the ball. Whether playing quarterback, receiver or running back, he will be on the field in some capacity.
“Deiondre will be a part of everything offensively,” Starkey said. “He and [junior] Ben Davis will be our quarterbacks. Ben has had a very impressive summer and has shown great improvement. He also will be our kicker and possibly handle the punting.
“We have three running backs in Matt Skobel, Sheldon Snapp and Johnny Snidanko, who will get a lot of looks early to see who will step up. Taylor also may get some looks at running back as he knows every position very well. Our offensive line will also be a big key in allowing us to move the ball.”
The offensive line will be anchored by 6-4, 315 senior Matt Chmielewski, who will play a guard position. A Division I recruit, he is looking at Indiana State and Southern Illinois.
“With Quin [Polaski] also back on the line, that is two pretty experienced people,” Starkey said. “With our newcomers added, the offensive line should be pretty good. Our defense has really improved from last year and we expect to make the playoffs this year.”
PORTERS AT A GLANCE
Coach: Dan Starkey
2014 record: 3-6, 3-4 in SouthWest Suburban Blue
Classification enrollment: 3,596 (probable class 8A)
Offensive coordinator: Dave Kroger
Defensive coordinator: Dan Starkey
Returning offensive starters: WR Deiondre Taylor, OG Matt Chmieleski, OT Quin Polaski
Returning defensive starters: DT Ryan Kelley, LB Brandon Wilson, LB Mo Atig, LB Gabe Lammers, CB Derrius Rodgers, CB Deiondre Taylor.
August: 28 – Downers Grove North, 7 p.m.
September: 4 – at Minooka, 7 p.m.; 12 – at Joliet Central, 1 p.m.; 18 – Sandburg, 7 p.m.; 25 – Homewood-Flossmoor, 7 p.m.
October: 2 – at Lincoln-Way East, 7:30 p.m.; 9 – Stagg, 7 p.m.; 16 – at Bolingbrook 7 p.m.; 23 – Joliet West, 7 p.m.