A game Stevenson football fans won’t soon forget is often at the top of Henry Sise’s mind.
It was Nov. 23, 2013, and the Patriots were hosting Loyola in the Class 8A state semifinals. Sise, a junior center, was on the sideline, having suffered a broken right leg in the season opener against Indian Trail of Kenosha, Wisconsin.
That relegated Sise from starter to cheerleader. He, along with thousands of Stevenson fans, watched the Ramblers win 15-14 in sub-zero temperatures.
“I was on crutches, my foot was bandaged,” said Sise, who the day before had undergone a second surgery on his injured leg. “I was devastated emotionally.”
Now fully recovered, Sise is back in his starting center spot for the Patriots. Stevenson’s 7-0 record and No. 1 ranking in the Sun-Times Super 25 poll this season are due in part to a balanced offense that has averaged 190 yards passing, 150 yards rushing and 31 points per game. But before quarterback Willie Bourbon throws or leading rusher Jack Joseph makes a cut into a running lane, Stevenson’s five interior linemen must do their jobs.
The experience of three-year-starter Bourbon enables Stevenson’s offense to be elastic from the time coach Bill McNamara calls a play until Sise snaps the ball. A run play can be changed to a pass, depending on what Bourbon sees.
“Willie will see [something] in the defensive secondary and can read off that,” junior right tackle Cade Gilbert said. “If he sees [receivers] in a position to make more yards than what we can do running, he can throw.”
This check or audible call is made at the line of scrimmage. While the change forces receivers to adjust their routes, for the offensive line, it’s status quo.
“As a line, we block the same,” Sise said
What happens next — a down block by the 6-foot-2, 275-pound Gilbert, or a double team on the nose guard from the 6-5, 300-pound Sise and junior left guard Jeremy Horwitz (6-0, 210 pounds), or a smash block by 6-2, 210-pound senior left tackle Jon Zanillo — is essential to the play being executed properly. But it often goes unnoticed.
Through the first five games of the season, Stevenson started the same five linemen. The rhythmic cadence of the Patriots’ offense and its balance in production are a function of the unit’s consistent daily repetition.
When senior right guard Freddie Atkins went down with a knee injury Oct. 3 against Lake Zurich, the team was prepared.
“We’ve been going two deep at every position in case of unfortunate incidents,”
McNamara said. “We have guys who understand the position and the calls and how it works.”
In Friday’s 45-0 victory over Zion-Benton, juniors Mike Maskalunas and Jake Steinberger filled in for Atkins. Although Atkins was missed, the experience of Sise, Horwitz, Zanillo and Gilbert held the line together.
This season has been especially meaningful for Sise, who had a pin removed from his leg during that second surgery the day before the Loyola game last season. He now wears it around his neck, and before each game, he gives it to his father to wear.
“It reminds me of what the [Indian Trail] game gave me and took away,” Sise said. “Last year, watching, I couldn’t change anything. This year, I can.”