Preps Talk

Adversity creates a rallying point: LWE comes together amid unique circumstances

Adversity creates a rallying point: LWE comes together amid unique circumstances

Kyle Julius was on the phone with his friend when the news broke. Nigel Muhammad was with his girlfriend. Jack Carroll was in his bedroom, and Henry Palmer was refreshing Twitter with his parents.

Ask any of the 118 players on this year’s Lincoln-Way East team where they were on August 13, 2015, the night leaders of the Lincoln-Way School District voted 5-2 to close Lincoln-Way North and each will have an answer. The controversial decision that closed the school after just seven years of operating was a result of the lower-than-projected enrollment numbers and low state funding. The news rippled through Frankfort and the surrounding areas, with the reality sinking in for thousands of District 210 students that the place they called school would be different a year later.

But for Lincoln-Way East head coach Rob Zvonar, adverse and unique situations like the one his team dealt with the past calendar year will only strengthen its resolve. And for a community still building itself back up and rallying together, Zvonar knows his Lincoln-Way East Griffins have an opportunity to not only perform on the field, but become a rallying point with their play each Friday night.

“I think they’ve taken a lot of pride on overcoming something that was out of their control,” Zvonar said. “And coming here together and making a decision that, ‘I’m from here and you’re from there, but we both have the same goal.’ And we can get that done together.”

Five months after the decision to close the school became official, Zvonar called for a meeting of the returning players from both East and North. The Griffins had just completed an 8-3 campaign, advancing to the state playoffs for the fifteenth consecutive year since the school opened in 2000. North, led by George Czart, had reeled off a program-best 11 straight victories before a loss to Hinsdale Central in the 6A quarterfinals.

Meeting for about an hour in the Griffins’ Lair, Zvonar relayed to the North players – and reminded his own East players – his expectations and admittedly high standards. The tough love he and the coaching staff would show to the players established an important relationship, which Zvonar said was the main goal of the meeting.

It was also a critical moment for the team’s growth. Though many of the North and East players lived relatively close to one another, that January gathering was the first time many of them had met. There were nerves on both ends, especially for the North students who were meeting their new head coach. But just minutes into the meeting, offensive lineman Sam Diehl recalled, the team was already bonding, cracking jokes and sharing icebreakers. The common bond of a love for football, and the matching goal of wanting to earn the program’s second state title didn’t hurt, either.

That meeting parlayed into winter workouts, spring training on their own and into summer camp, when the team took the field for the first time together in early June. Now less than a week away from their season opener, a Week 1 tilt against John Adams in South Bend, the team is clicking both on and off the field as if they had been teammates forever.

“I feel like I’ve known these guys all my life,” said defensive lineman Kyle Julius, who played three seasons at North.

From a football perspective, the arrival of the North students also signified a boon to an already-dominant program. Outgoing Lincoln-Way East students from Mokena transferred to Central, leaving a few holes on the depth chart. But the surplus of numbers created healthy position battles at just about every position. It’s something Zvonar made clear in the January meeting – “the elephant in the room” – and the head coach credited the athletes for being open and putting the team first.

“It was difficult for a lot of kids that were expecting to play. There’s a lot of competition,” said Jack Carroll, a projected starting inside linebacker. “And it’s fun to watch everybody.”

There’s turnover each year for every high school football team, as seniors graduate and sophomores move to the varsity team. But the unique situation in Frankfort has forced the Griffins to mesh quickly, all the while doing so with expectations of a state championship following them.

"We told the men," Zvonar recalled of the meeting, "'Look to your left, look to your right, and there's a complete stranger there. But that complete stranger could end up being your college roommate, could end up being your best friend, could end up being in your wedding someday.

"The credit goes to the kids for being open and accepting to each other, and when your work hard at something a brotherhood starts to be created.

"It's been a lot of fun bringing these two worlds together and trying to become one, the best we can."

96 Days to Kickoff: Jacobs

96 Days to Kickoff: Jacobs preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O'Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting July 30, we'll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 24.

School: Jacobs

Head coach: Bill Mitz

Assistant coaches: Bubba Smith, Mike Warren, Brian Zimmerman, JM Foote, Ryan Arndt and Bob Mackey

How they fared in 2017: 6-4 (5-3 Fox Valley Conference). Jacobs made the Class 7A playoff field. The Golden Eagles lost to Lincoln-Way West in opening round action. 

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 Hampshire 

Aug. 31 @ Huntley 

Sept. 7 Dundee-Crown 

Sept. 14 @ McHenry 

Sept. 21 Neuqua Valley 

Sept. 28 Prairie Ridge 

Oct. 5 @ Cary-Grove 

Oct. 12 Crystal Lake South 

Oct. 19 @ Crystal Lake Central

Biggest storyline: Can the Golden Eagles move up in the Fox Valley Conference pecking order in 2018?

Names to watch this season: OT Joacheim Price and OL Nick Zonta

Biggest holes to fill: The Golden Eagles will need to replace its entire starting linebacker group from a season ago.

EDGY's Early Take: Year in and year out, Jacobs is always a factor in the rugged Fox Valley Conference (seven playoff appearances in the last eight years). The Golden Eagles return some starters in several key spots. If the underclassmen group can step up this summer, look for Jacobs to challenge for the FVC conference title and a higher seed in 7A come IHSA playoff time. 

97 Days to Kickoff: Back of the Yards

97 Days to Kickoff: Back of the Yards preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting July 30, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 24.

School: Back of the Yards

Head coach: Sheamus Murphy

Assistant Coaches: Will Johnson, Marty McNamara, Tim McNamara and Nick Teich

How they fared in 2017: 8-2 (6-0 CPL Great Lakes Conference). Back of the Yards made the Class 5A state playoff field. They lost to Solorio in opening round action. 

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Week 1: @ Kelly

Week 2: vs. Goode

Week 3: @ Brooks

Week 4: vs. Schurz

Week 5: vs. Kenwood

Week 6: vs. North Lawndale

Week 7: @ Steinmetz

Week 8: vs. Payton Prep

Week 9: @ Clark

Biggest storyline: The Bobcats were a true feel-good story last season. Can the Bobcats build on its momentum and success going into the 2018 campaign?

Names to watch this season: OL/Dl Kevin Pacheco, WR/DB Carl McNickles, OL Armando Resendiz

Biggest holes to fill: The Bobcats bring back several returning starters from last season; however, can they find a new signal caller to replace the graduation loss of 2017 standout QB Jeremiah Harris (McKendree College)? 

EDGY's Early Take: One of the top stories from the 2017 season was the rise of this young program. The Bobcats made the IHSA state playoff field in just their third season of varsity football. As for 2018? The expectations have risen for this South Side school. A move to the CPL Illini Prairie State conference ramps up the overall competition level. If the Bobcats can find a steady signal caller, they have solid chance at competing for a potential IHSA state playoff spot come October.