In Illinois high school football, few teams are more predictable — in a good way — than Lincoln-Way East.
Under the only coach in program history, Rob Zvonar, the Griffins have been a model of sustained success. They’re the only team in the state that has never missed the IHSA playoffs, and those 11 consecutive trips to the postseason have featured appearances in the second round or better each of the past eight years.
So even though East lost one of Illinois’ premier pass-and-catch tandems — quarterback Blake Winkler (Illinois State) and receiver Jason Robertson (Illinois) — it looks like a safe bet to pencil it in as one of the area’s best.
Winkler passed for 2,369 yards and 30 touchdowns for last year’s Griffins, who finished 10-1 after losing to eventual Class 7A runner-up Wheaton Warrenville South in the second round. Robertson was his favorite target, with 39 catches for 881 yards and 12 scores. Also gone is Jay Yancy, who also had 39 receptions for 602 yards and eight TDs.
The Griffins have another talented quarterback to run the offense in 6-foot-3, 180-pound senior Tom Fuessel, a Northern Illinois recruit. Sought after as an athlete, Fuessel “does throw the ball well enough to be our quarterback,” Zvonar said. “(And) he adds another dimension with his speed.”
With the receivers, Zvonar said, “we’ve replaced a couple (talented) guys. It may take three, four guys to make up for that production.”
Among those who could step up are Josh Mahalovich and Justin Corbett as receivers, along with running backs Kevin Duffin and Nick Colangelo.
Up front, the offensive line is led by junior Nick Allegretti, a returning starter touted by Zvonar as “a potential All-Stater.” Others in the mix there include Mitch Arvidson, Ryan Weitendorf, Tom Plunkett and Mitch Kehoe.
Though most of the linemen will be starting for the first time, Zvonar is OK with that. “The line is a position (where) a year older, a year stronger, is great,” he said. “If we play five seniors on the offensive line, that’s common and not a problem for us.”
The strength of the Griffins’ defense could be a linebacking corps that includes Adam O’Grady, the leading tackler on last year’s team; Kyle Langenderfer, a third-year starter who’s also a state champ in wrestling; and Mitch Murphy.
Up front, some of the names to watch are Mike Stachowitz, Adam Hould and Curt Olbrich.
Four seniors started in the secondary last season, where the contenders for starting jobs include Jarret Lecas, Brendan Sleeman, Sean Doherty, Marcus Cosby and Moe Almasri.
Though the faces may change, the goals do not.
“We have high expectations,” Zvonar said. “We feel any time there’s expectations and pressure that come from past success, you take that as a compliment.”
There might even be more motivation than usual, though, this fall after last year’s second-round playoff exit.
“You start out 10-0 and you know perhaps the best program in the state comes down (to play) and you come out on the short end — it left a bitter taste in a lot of kids’ mouths,” Zvonar said. “What we’ve learned from it is to embrace each day.”
That’s because nothing is absolutely guaranteed — though the Griffins having a solid team comes close.