Preps Talk

Griffins learn something new about themselves in first setback of the year

Griffins learn something new about themselves in first setback of the year

The Lincoln-Way East Griffins returned to Frankfort to play a home game after a pair of long road trips to begin their 2016 season. And after 416 combined miles on the road, taking them to two states and a pair of college campuses, the Griffins learned right in their back yard that the journey to Champaign will be a long one.

The standings will show a first tally in the loss column for the Griffins, who came up just short in their 35-30 loss to rival Homewood-Flossmoor last Friday. But squaring off against a fellow top-5 opponent in the state so early in the year was bound to have its positives, regardless of outcome. And while the Griffins would have liked to earn a victory, they were able to learn things – good and bad – about themselves in the close-knit affair.

“Whether we had been a point ahead or five points behind (at the end), you find out a lot about yourself when you play one of the best teams in the state,” Rob Zvonar said. “That’s the kind of game you want early to get a measuring stick of where you’re at, and it’ll definitely serve us well down the road.”

The goods were evident Friday night. The Griffins offense scored on each of their first three possessions, including two touchdown receptions by wide receiver Jeremy Nelson. The senior, who has dealt with myriad injuries since his sophomore year, continued his red-hot start to the season and finished with nine receptions for 136 yards. The 14-0 start was the first time the Vikings had trailed by multiple scores since the 2014 8A state title game.

It was a mixed night for the defense, which seven days earlier pitched their first shutout against Belleville West. The Vikings’ high-powered offense went scoreless in the third quarter, and the Griffins defense held their ground in the game’s final minutes to give the offense one last chance to win the game trailing by five.

The mistakes were just as clear, too. Losing a 14-0 lead at home, throwing an interception 22 yards from the end zone in the game’s final minute, a blocked punt and a missed field goal all culminated in the Griffins’ first loss of the year.

But if the Griffins needed to learn those lessons, they’re glad to have done it in early September instead of November. One of the top conferences in the state makes wins hard to come by, but also gets teams ready for the postseason. Friday night was certainly a playoff atmosphere, as was the opponent.

“It’s nice to play a caliber team like this early in the season so we know what we’re looking for in playoffs,” offensive lineman Sam Diehl said. “They’re a hard, physical team. So we’ll be expecting that in the playoffs.”

The Griffins may have also learned a valuable lesson about leadership. It was a noted point of interest in Zvonar’s discussions with the team during practice week. On Wednesday the head coach took a dozen or so seniors and a handful of juniors aside and discussed the importance of speaking up in situations that arose, both on and off the field. Leading by example isn’t always enough, he told his leaders.

“We just want to earn the respect of our teammates and we’ve got to make sure they’re all on the same page,” senior quarterback Jake Arthur said. “We’ve got to stay focused, (to) take ownership of this team. Everything revolves around each other, so we’ve got to make sure we’re on the same page.”

It’s a learning-on-the-go development for the Griffins, who have done an admirable job merging two schools, programs and starters together while dealing with state-title aspirations. That includes leadership, which in a program as prestigious as Lincoln-Way East is earned, not given. Zvonar has made it a point to rotate different captains each week, but he let it known to his leaders that he’s expecting more as the season progresses.

And that’s why last Friday’s loss stung, but didn’t sear. The Griffins have improvements to make, and time to do it.

“There’s no doubt we got an early taste of what playoff football can be like,” Zvonar said. “This will serve us well down the road. If we’re not winning, at least we’re learning.”

Breaking: LW East AJ Henning to Michigan

NBC Sports Chicago

Breaking: LW East AJ Henning to Michigan

Lincoln-Way East 4 star ranked running back AJ Henning (5-foot-10, 183 pounds) today gave the University of Michigan his verbal commitment.

"At the end of the day Michigan was just the best overall for me," Henning said. "Michigan has stuck with me in this process for a long time including when I was injured and never backed off. Michigan also recruited me but also  got to know my family well which really made a strong impression on me."

Henning, who narrowed down his final list of schools to Michigan. Georgia, Notre Dame and Penn State new that Michigan was his school after his recent official visit. 

"When I made my official visit to Michigan is when I knew that I found my school. I was able to just get a great feel for the coaches and the guys on the team on my official visits. I just felt that I will be a great fit at Michigan socially, athletically, academically and that I really fit in well with the guys on the team. After my official visit I knew that Michigan was the place I needed to be."

Henning, who ended up selecting Michigan over scholarship offers from 33 FBS schools  is bit thrilled and relived to have announced his college choice.

"It's definitely a relief, but just being able to be recruited and offered scholarships from 33 different schools is a true blessing. I'm just glad I found a home in Michigan."

65 Days to Kickoff: Solorio

65 Days to Kickoff: Solorio 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 Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Solorio

Head coach: Bill Ziemba

Assistant coaches: John Erlenbaugh, Rob Oden, Carol White, Joe Mende and Phil Wisniewski

How they fared in 2018: 7-5 (2-3 CPL Illini Red Bird Conference). Solorio failed to qualify for the 2018 IHSA state playoff field. The Sun Warriors then entered the CPL playoffs and defeated Lincoln Park and Curie before losing to Taft in the title game.
2019 regular season schedule:

Aug. 30 @ Clark
Sept. 6 vs Phoenix Academy
Sept. 13 @ Raby
Sept. 20 vs Simeon
Sept. 27 @ Taft
Oct. 4 vs Westinghouse
Oct. 11 @ Curie
Oct. 18 vs Hubbard
Oct. 25 vs Perspectives Leadership

[MORE: 82 Days to Kickoff - Taft]

Biggest storyline: The Sun Warriors had a recent string of IHSA playoff berths; last year they advanced to the Public League title game. Can the Sun Warriors make it back to the IHSA state playoff field in 2019?

Names to watch this season: RB Amarius Weatherspoon (Jr.) and WR/DB Brian Whitsey (Jr.)

Biggest holes to fill: The Sun Warriors will bring back a ton of experience for 2019 but will need to fill a few key spots this summer. That list includes the quarterback position and along the defensive line.

EDGY's Early Take: Solorio head coach Bill Ziemba believes his Sun Warriors are in the top five of Public League programs. They finished the 2018 season with a 5-4 record but missed the IHSA state playoff field because of low playoff points. The Sun Warriors will need to ramp up their overall game as they move into to the CPL Illini Land of Lincoln conference. If they can get out of the gates well early on, they have a great shot at getting back to the state playoffs in 2019.