The experience factor in high school football can be overrated, especially with a team like Lincoln-Way East.
Year after year, the Griffins return just a handful of starters. And year after year, they’re among the teams to beat in the big-school playoffs.
Lincoln-Way East — No. 10 in the Sun-Times preseason Super 25 — has never missed the IHSA playoffs in its 12-year varsity history. The Griffins captured the Class 8A title in 2005, were runners-up in 7A last fall and have won at least one playoff game in each of the past nine seasons.
All that with a starting lineup that turns over almost entirely from one season to the next, as juniors go from backup to the front lines.
“That junior year can be awfully tough for some of these excellent players,” said Rob Zvonar, the only head coach the program’s had. “For their whole life, they’ve been starters. Junior year, they might have that special senior in front of them.”
Four current seniors were regulars last year for the 13-1 club that fell 10-8 to Glenbard West in the Class 7A final. They’re the starting point for Zvonar and his staff in their quest to build another team capable of playing deep into November.
The best of the bunch is 6-4, 280-pounder Nick Allegretti, an Illinois recruit who is ranked 25th nationally among offensive guards by Rivals.com. Though his college plans are set, Allegretti — also one of the state’s top wrestlers — isn’t coasting through his final prep season.
He wants to up his skill level before heading to Champaign: “Definitely, my pass blocking. I want to open it up, rather than me just blocking them and stopping them from [sacking] the quarterback — more stopping them at the line than four yards back. I want to dominate this year.”
He might not be the only Griffin capable of doing that. Two starting wide receivers also return in seniors Austin Winkler and Chris Pierie. “He has a chance to be one of the better wide receivers in the Chicago area,” Zvonar said of Winkler.
Who will be throwing to Winkler and Pierie remains to be seen, with seniors Jordan Wirtz and Brett Fuessel (cousin of last year’s starting quarterback, Tom Fuessel) in a three-way quarterback race with junior Mike Weller.
“We’re going to go ahead and play that out,” Zvonar said. “We’re going to take our time. We’re still sitting here thinking there’s no wrong decision.”
There’s also depth at running back, where seniors Brian Casey, Michael Jobbe and Malik Carter are in the mix with junior Alex Kraft.
The strength of the defense should be up front, where seniors Scott Kresal (6-2, 230), a returning starter, and Tyrone Suggs (6-2, 260) “could form the best tandem of defensive tackles in the Chicago area,” according to Zvonar.
Throw in Cody Hoffman (5-10, 215) and Sean Stewart (6-4, 225) and East has a solid front four. A breakout player in the secondary could be senior Marcus Cosby.
“It’s their turn now,” Zvonar said of the seniors targeted for expanded roles. “They want to see what they can accomplish, establish their own legacy.”