NORTHLAKE — Leyden’s Beni Smajlovic was on the field for almost every play Friday night during the Eagles’ 20-7 season-opening home loss to Buffalo Grove in Northlake.
The senior was easy to distinguish on both sides of the ball, especially since he had a large cast on his left hand.
Smajlovic broke a bone in his hand during summer camp for Leyden. Despite being sidelined for four weeks, he never envisioned missing the first game of the season.
“I do not think I could see myself not playing, missing out on any games with this team,” Smajlovic said. “This team is everything to me, they are my family. We are like a community. Honestly, it is like a brotherhood.”
Smajlovic anchors the offensive line at left tackle and is a linebacker on defense, in addition to handling some duties on special teams.
Even though he was pleased to be back on the field, he felt his play suffered from having to take four weeks off following the injury.
“Anytime you take time off, it always hurts you whether it is on or off the field,” Smajlovic said. “I did not go to the weight room, I did not do anything and that hurt me a lot. Those four weeks, I could have done a world of things.
“I personally feel that I could have done better (against Buffalo Grove). As a captain, as a leader of the team, I honestly could have guided us more. At times, I was really playing like it was my first start.”
Smajlovic is probably his own toughest critic. His linemate on the offensive, guard Juan Puga, said he did not notice any dropoff.
“He obviously goes over 100 percent every single play, every single practice,” said Puga. “Every single play he wants to make us proud. We know it (injury) is hard for him, but he works as hard as he can no matter what. (There was) no letdown at all.”
There was no letdown for Leyden on Friday either, after the Eagles fell behind 14-0 in the first half. After a lightning delay at the intermission, they rallied in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 14-7 following a 26-yard TD pass from Tom Pajor to John Robles.
Leyden (0-1) could not finish the comeback after Buffalo Grove pieced together a nine-play scoring drive, but it was certainly not from a lack of effort by Smajlovic.
“That takes guts, because not having the use of your hand when you are trying to play football and playing one-handed, that is gutsy,” said Eagles coach Tom Cerasani. “It is harder for him when he is tackling, and forget about intercepting a ball. But he could probably do it; he is a pretty talented kid.”