LAKE ZURICH — Offensive skill players and defenders in football receive most of the accolades, but that doesn’t bother five seniors who form the Lake Zurich offensive line. They’re content just to hit somebody.
“We love coming off the ball and hitting people,” senior left guard Luke Yankoe said.
Lake Zurich is 7-0, including 4-0 in the NSC Lake, and the linemen are an important part of that. Yankoe is one of three returning starters on the offensive line, a group offensive line coach Tim Beagle refers to as the “Inside Three.” Along with Yankoe, senior center Matt Michael and right guard Aaron Hussey make up an experienced middle of the line.
“The Inside Three all played together last year and their experience has been the biggest positive so far this year,” Beagle said. “They’re mature enough to make adjustments on the fly. They’ve been solid from the get-go.”
In addition to having the experience to make adjustments on the fly, the offensive line has good communication to make adjustments in the game.
“The communication aspect started right away over the summer,” Beagle said. “They even have secret code words where I don’t even know what they’re saying.”
Yankoe laughed when asked about the secret code words.
“We’re close guys,” he said. “We have a close bond as an offensive line. We’ve pretty much been playing together since youth league. You can always talk to the other guys because you’ve known them all of your life.”
Yankoe said the linemen refer to themselves as “the Big Nasties.”
“We started that last year,” Yankoe said. “We’re in the trenches hitting everyone and we take pride in that. The lower levels are now even referring to themselves as the Big Nasties. We’re passing it down.”
Along with the three returning starters, senior right tackle Chris Tsiapas and senior left tackle Don Elmore round out the starting Big Nasties. They didn’t start last season, but Beagle said they have improved every week. Yankoe agreed.
“Don and Chris worked their butts off in the offseason,” Yankoe said. “Me, Matt and (Chris) Hussey tried to get them prepared for what was coming.”
What was coming was not only nine opponents in the regular season, but a staunch Lake Zurich defense every day in practice.
“It’s a constant battle, as it should be, in practice,” coach Dave Proffitt said. “It makes us better for Friday night.”
The Bears’ defense has given up just 38 points through seven weeks, an average of just over five points a game.
“Our defensive line has to be one of the best in the state,” Yankoe said. “They’ve made us 10 times better.”
Beagle agreed, calling the battles between the lines in practice “heated.”
The heated practices have paid off this season. In their most recent victory, a 48-14 romp over Zion-Benton on Friday, the Bears ran for more than 300 yards despite losing starting running back Ben Klett to an ankle injury on the second play.
“We feel very good with having a backup running back come in because of our offensive line,” Proffitt said.
The Big Nasties make it easy for their coaches and teammates to feel good. Beagle could point out only one downside to his starting five.
“There is one negative,” Beagle said, “And that’s that they’re all seniors.”