Zion-Benton football will strive to turn potential into production

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When Bob Moynihan was named new varsity football coach at Zion-Benton High School, the best first guess was that his biggest challenge would be finding kids who are serious about playing football at what is known as a basketball school.

But upon further review — and with practice for the 2014 season starting this week — that first guess was a wrong guess.

The biggest challenge Moynihan and his staff face is convincing the Zee-Bee players that the sorry numbers that hang above the program like the Sword of Damocles are facts but not the whole truth, and that all those losing numbers aren’t written in stone, but in pencil and can be erased with one glorious season for the ages.

Does this group of varsity athletes have it in them to change the trajectory of Zee-Bee football history?

We’ll know in about 11 weeks. What the players have to prove is that 10 consecutive years without a playoff appearance and a 16-74 record during that time — second-worst in Lake County — is not a predictor of the future. Rather, their future’s in their hands.

If Moynihan can get the players to believe that, the Zee-Bees — with a schedule that includes a realistic path to five wins and a playoff berth — could be the best team in town on Friday nights.

If not, the best team will be Zion’s varsity cheer squad which appears poised for a run at state honors in their sport this school year.

“I know what the goals are. Everyone wants five wins,” said Moynihan, an assistant coach at St. Viator and at North Chicago when those teams did indeed get to five wins and qualify for the IHSA playoffs. “These guys want to win conference, but I haven’t brought that up. I want them to get better each and every day, and I can tell you that since the beginning of the summer, we’ve gotten better each and every day. We want to continue that growth throughout the year.”

Just about everything this year involving Z-B football is new. The coaches. The uniforms. The attitude. And most importantly, the quality of the players.

“I’m very impressed. A lot of my friends who have played high school and college ball are excited, and we’ve gotten a lot of support from those guys. We bought some nice new jerseys,” Moynihan said.

“They asked me what I thought of the kids, and I told them ‘I have football players.’ The guys who were here throughout the summer — and we had over 80 of them who were here almost every day — that core group is pretty good, and they’re football players,” he added. “They want to excel at football, and they do the right things. The guys who don’t do the right things will weed themselves out.

“If we can’t rely on them, they’re not doing us any good here. Eventually, we’ll have the kids we want, who will do things the way we want them. They’ll be fine. They’ll shock some people.”

Most of Moynihan’s assistant coaches were not around during this decade of struggles.

“We have two guys who played in the Arena League working on the offensive side of the ball. I coached my offensive coordinator (Danta Warren) going back to when he was 8 years old, and he played in the Arena League,” Moynihan said. “A receiver from his team (Ed Barry) moved out here so he could coach our receivers.

“I’m trying to get the most qualified people to work with these kids,” Moynihan added. “Craig Humann came over from North Chicago. He’s doing a great job working with the offensive line. From the time he got here to now, they’ve improved dramatically. That’s probably our biggest gain.”

Actually, probably not. The biggest gain is the players realizing they can do something special this season. This group is not defeated in mid-August. And not only can they count to five (wins), they see a way to get there.

“We have so many skill kids: John Roberts, Tristin Wright, Nick Reed, Devon Feurtado, Brandon Braswell, and Devin Kooi,” said Moynihan. “Out of the backfield, we have Marcese Gonzales, Eshaunte Williams, and Daniel Armstead. All three of them are great little backs.

“Eshaunte transferred in from Kenosha (Tremper). He and Marcese are very similar runners. Daniel Armstead is a junior, and he’s more of an Eric Dickerson type, which can help us on certain plays. We’re going to throw to everybody.

Doing the throwing is going to be Doug Gates, a senior who transferred in during his sophomore season and now must turn potential into production.

“Doug didn’t throw an interception in his last five 7-on-7 (summer) tournaments, so he’s gone about 15 7-on-7 games without an interception,” Moynihan said. “He’s protecting the ball well. I’ve been very pleased with their (the QB group) progression throughout.”

It all starts on Friday, Aug. 29, at home against Deerfield. Week 2 is a Saturday game at rival Waukegan. If Z-B players wake up on Labor Day with a 2-0 record, do not be shocked if they demand the coaches show up and conduct a full practice on that holiday Monday.

After all, the kids can count to five. And while the historical numbers say they won’t get there, those numbers were written in pencil and these Zee-Bees want to erase the past.

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