Larkin doesn’t have strength in numbers this season, so it will have to rely on other areas of strength in order to reach its lofty goals.
One attribute the Royals possess is sheer physical strength, particularly up front on a formidable offensive line led by seniors Alex Schabert (6-foot-2, 325 pounds) and Adam Hamiel (6-3, 305), both of whom are back for their third varsity seasons.
Strength in unity is another critical component for Larkin’s path to success as it will need all hands on deck if it hopes to improve on last year’s 3-6 finish and end the program’s five-year playoff drought.
“This group gets along really well and they hold each other accountable,” Larkin coach Mike Scianna said. “We don’t have big numbers again and we’ll probably be right around 40 on the roster, but our motto this year is ‘Band of Brothers.’
“I’m telling the guys they need to stick together. There’s not a lot of us, but we’re going into this thing together.”
Schabert, a two-time All-Upstate Eight River honoree, will see time on the right side of the line opposite Hamiel. Senior Will Rodriguez (6-1, 190) is one of several other players expected to contribute up front.
Senior running back Mo Jackson (5-8, 185) returns after racking up 801 yards on 143 carries and landing All-UEC River honors as a junior. He’ll be joined in the backfield by senior fullback Kory Plate (5-10, 195).
Kemmerin Blalark (5-10, 175) is set to take over at quarterback and headlines a big group of juniors expected to make significant contributions. Another newcomer in the mix is junior receiver Anthony Blalark (5-8, 145), Kemmerin’s cousin.
“We seem to be pretty balanced being able to throw and run, so we’re kind of excited about that,” Scianna said.
Rodriguez will lead the defense at middle linebacker. Plate is also in the mix at linebacker while Schabert and Hamiel will see time on the defensive line.
As usual, Scianna is choosing to play it close to the vest rather than shed light on which other players will be in the rotation for Larkin’s opener against McHenry. One safe bet is that whichever players end up in the starting lineup will likely see significant playing time on both sides of the ball.
“With the numbers we’ve got, we have to stay healthy,” Scianna said. “But there’s a lot of teams in the same boat as us.”
Larkin hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2006, and the five-year absence matches the program’s longest postseason drought since 1974-78.
The 1979 Royals broke through and posted an 11-1 record in what is remembered by many as the school’s finest season. While duplicating that feat might be far fetched for this year’s group, there is certainly potential for Larkin to get back on track and add another chapter to its postseason history.
“If we can stay competitive, keep games close and give ourselves a chance to win, we believe anything can happen,” Scianna said. “With that being said, there’s three teams (in the UEC River) that made the playoffs last year (Batavia, Geneva and Streamwood), and those three teams look like they’ll be able to return again from what we’ve seen this summer. So there’s not a lot of room for everybody else.”