Connor Melvin understands his role.
Lemont has produced a long line of big-time offensive linemen, and Melvin learned from two of the best.
Ethan Pocic graduated after last season as one of the most heralded linemen in the country. He is competing for the starting center job as a freshman at LSU. Tim McAuliffe is at Bowling Green.
Now, it’s Melvin’s turn.
The 6-foot-3, 260-pound senior right tackle is the lone returning regular on the line — on the entire offense, in fact. Inexperience is a potential issue all over the field.
The Indians have not been this young during their remakable nine-year run under coach Eric Michaelsen, who estimates “six or seven sophomores” may start. Lemont was 95-17 (.848) the last nine years, was second in the state in 2007 and ’08, a quarterfinalist the next two years and a semifinalist the last two.
A big, talented offensive line and solid defense have been staples.
“When I started here I was new to football, and Pocic and McAuliffe taught me how to be tough,” Melvin said. “I have to teach that now, set the tone for the young guys in the line.”
Michaelsen said he has seven candidates for the other four O-line positions, only one a senior. As a leader, Melvin is smart, aggressive and strong with a good work ethic and believes he is quick for his size. He’s a chip off the old block.
“I always knew Pocic and McAuliffe were special,” he said of his mentors. “Ethan has size, aggressiveness and perfect technique. Tim is a big dude. He is the nastiest person on the field that I have seen.”
Lemont’s new line will be tested in the Aug. 30 season opener against Plainfield South, which features touted linebacker Clifton Garrett.
Michaelsen is leaning toward senior Joe Bailey as his quarterback. Junior Jim Kepouros may have a leg up at running back. Frank Pignone, a returning starter at linebacker, could play there as well.
“I thought it would have taken a whole lot of time, but the offense is coming together,” Melvin said. “I didn’t really feel it in the summer, but it’s getting there.”
Returning defensive starters include Pignone, middle linebacker Drew Hayes, lineman Andrew Miller and defensive back Anthony Berta.
“It’s different getting ready for this year because we are inexperienced,” Hayes said. “But we’ve got great coaching and that’s a big part of it. We’ll be together by game time.”
Hayes, like Melvin, feels a responsibility.
“It’s my last year,” he said. “I have had to step up and help lead the younger guys on defense. I enjoy doing it.
“All these guys have been in a program that wins. What winning does is it keeps younger guys wanting to come back and put in the work.”
Michaelsen said that although more teaching may be happening this preseason as the Indians take things at a slower pace. “We still have high expectations,” he said. ”These kids give us what they think they’ve got. It’s our job to get that from them and a little more.”