Junior year can be a difficult one for most players at Lincoln-Way East.
With a few exceptions, seniors earn most of the starting positions, relegating juniors to a reserve role.
“Junior year can be a tough year in our program,” East coach Rob Zvonar said. “After being a starter for two years (freshman and sophomore years), the juniors are asked to sit and wait.”
When their time arrives, though, every senior class has answered the call at East. The Griffins have qualified for the playoffs all 12 years of their existence, leading to a 115-27 career record for Zvonar.
Though just four starters return from last season’s 13-1 squad that finished second in Class 7A, the trend of qualifying for the playoffs is expected to continue in 2013. The Griffins enter as No. 1 in the Herald-News Preseason Football Top 10.
“Every Lincoln-Way East team I’ve been a part of and watched over the years is a state championship contender,” Griffins offensive lineman Nick Allegretti said. “When a senior class graduates, the juniors who come up are ready to play like the seniors did the year before.”
The success isn’t by accident, according to Allegretti.
“The time we put into the classroom and conditioning and the amount of attention the coaching staff puts on the little things, we have the raw ability to compete at a high level every year,” Allegretti said. “The coaches put a tremendous amount of time in to make sure we’re prepared.”
The lone starters returning from last season include two stalwarts on the defensive line in seniors Scott Kresal (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) and Sean Stewart (6-4, 225). Also back are wide receiver Austin Winkler (6-1, 175) and Allegretti (6-5, 300), the latter of whom has committed to Illinois.
The biggest void to fill is at quarterback, with Tom Fuessel, who totaled 2,500 yards of offense a season ago, having moved on to Northwestern. There’s a three-way battle between seniors Jordan Wirtz (6-foot, 180) and Brett Fuessel (6-3, 190) and junior Mike Weller (5-11, 165). Brett Fuessel, Tom’s cousin, is more of a drop-back passer, while Wirtz and Weller are more mobile and threats to run.
“All three have done a great job and have different styles,” Zvonar said. “We’re going to make the best decision we can possibly make. I wouldn’t rule out playing more than one and being successful.”
Senior Brian Casey (5-10, 170) will be the go-to guy in the backfield and senior receiver Chris Pierie (6-1, 180) the likely favored target through the air. Senior Jimmy Griffin (5-11, 260) will join Allegretti on the O-line.
Zvonar is expecting seniors Tyrone Suggs (6-2, 260) and Cody Hoffman (5-10, 215) to contribute on the defensive line and senior Marcus Cosby (5-11, 165) to be a major factor in the secondary.
“These seniors, like the ones before them, have made up their minds and want to step up and establish their own identity,” Zvonar said. “The current class wants to be better than the class before them. This senior class is no different.”