Jordan Wirtz handles transition to running back smoothly

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Jordan Wirtz prepped four years to quarterback Lincoln-Way East this season, including a stint last season backing up Tommy Fuessel, now at Northwestern.

After a three-way battle that nearly lasted until the season opener, Wirtz was handed the keys to the offense this season.

And the 6-foot, 180-pound senior performed well, guiding the Griffins to a 6-2 mark through eight weeks.

However, when running backs Brian Casey and Alex Craft suffered injuries, East was in dire need of a capable ballcarrier.

Enter Wirtz.

“We were pretty banged up at running back,” Wirtz said. “The coaching staff knew I was athletic and that I could run. They put me at running back.”

Junior Mike Weller — Wirtz’s backup — took over at quarterback.

Coincidence or not, the Griffins offense has scored 130 points during the three games Wirtz has been at running back, including a season-high 57 during Saturday’s Class 7A second-round win over Oswego East.

“All along as our starting quarterback Jordan gave us a dual threat,” Griffins coach Rob Zvonar said. “He showed us he could both run and pass the ball. But he really had an ability to run with the football. With our injuries at running back, it made sense to move him to running back. Jordan is an unselfish kid and will do anything to help the team. It’s been an unbelievably smooth transition.”

Wirtz did say, though, he initially had some reservations about making the switch.

“I didn’t know how I would do as running back,” Wirtz said. “I wasn’t sure how I would block and protect the quarterback. It’s a little different. I went through four years of high school not hitting anybody and staying out of contact drills at practice. Now I have to initiate contact. It took some time, but it’s been fun.”

Playing running back wasn’t completely new to Wirtz. During his years with the Mokena Burros Youth Football Organization, Wirtz starred at running back.

Since eighth grade, though, all he’s known is quarterback.

“I had to get refreshed with everything,” he said. “Taking on those linebackers and not getting blown off my blocks took some getting used to. I had to learn to be very aggressive. But it all came back pretty naturally.”

Wirtz had his finest game against Oswego East, rushing for 182 yards on 22 carries. During a first-round win over Plainfield East, he registered 98 yards and a score on 19 carries.

There’s no questioning the move or going back to quarterback, even with Casey having returned from a leg injury. Both will get an opportunity to tote the pigskin Saturday when the Griffins (9-2) go up against undefeated Edwardsville in the quarterfinals.

“Brian and I switch off series for the most part,” Wirtz said. “Mike is doing a great job at quarterback. My offensive line has made it (transition) easy. I get all the credit, but I wouldn’t be anything without them.”

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