Happy for one last hurrah: Lincoln-Way East’s Matt Kordas looks to finish career on high note

Matt Kordas kept the faith, even during the long months when the outlook for anything other than low-risk sports looked bleak.

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Lincoln-Way East’s Matt Kordas (7) celebrates his interception with Jalen Hacha (29) in the first half of the Griffins 24-7 8A semi-final victory over Marist in 2019.

Lincoln-Way East’s Matt Kordas (7) celebrates his interception with Jalen Hacha (29) in the first half of the Griffins 24-7 8A semi-final victory over Marist in 2019.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Matt Kordas was looking forward to his senior year of high school.

The Lincoln-Way East safety was gearing up for the Griffins’ defense of the Class 8A football title they won in 2019. He was ready for one last year with all the friends he grew up with before heading off to play at Bowling Green.

But it’s all played out very differently during the pandemic era: no fall football, lonelyhallways on campus, a feeling that his generation was being ignored.

“There’s not a lot of kids in school,” Kordas said. “No one thought our last year in [high] school, our last year of football would be like this.”

Until a few weeks ago, it looked like there wouldn’t even be a last year of football. But then Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health loosened COVID-19 protocols, giving the green light for a six-game season starting March 19.

Kordas kept the faith, even during the long months when the outlook for anything other than low-risk sports looked bleak.

“I would say deep down I always kept hope,” he said. “It was so hard for a lot of kids. We got told, ‘no,’ multiple times before when we thought we’d have a chance to play.

“Nothing was being said. We had to keep the hope to each other. Eventually I thought they forgot about us. I know a lot of kids did.”

Kordas knows there has been criticism of the current plan, with a shortened season and no postseason.

But given the alternative, he prefers to see the glass as half-full.

“I think everyone is grateful,” Kordas said. “People complain about not having the playoffs or not having the full [number of] games. [But] we get another chance to play together. Everyone is super excited.”

Like Kordas, Lincoln-Way East running back Jamal Johnson is heading to Bowling Green. All fall, he saw his future teammates posting highlights from their last year of high school ball on social media. It wasn’t easy to watch from the sidelines.

“We had other states around us playing,” Johnson said. “It was just like, ‘Are we going to get a shot?’

“They have talked about their season; I have not played yet.”

And like Kordas, Johnson isn’t worried about the games he won’t be able to play,

“Anything they give us, three games, four games, we’ll take it,” he said.

All that being said, there is a little sadness about not being able to chase what would be the Griffins’ third state title in four seasons.

“I would say for sure it’s a bummer,” Kordas said. “At East and a lot of other schools, the goal is to win. Obviously everyone wants to compete for a state championship. That’s an extra push.”

That’s always the goal at Mount Carmel too. The Caravan, like the Griffins, are coming off a 14-0 title run, in Class 7A.

Much as he wanted to get back out on the field with his teammates, two-way Penn recruit Kenenna Odeluga knew COVID-19 was in control.

“For me, if there was going to be a season, I just wanted it under safe conditions,” he said. “There’d be no point having a season if there were massive virus rates,”

After not playing a game since Thanksgiving weekend of 2019, Odeluga is more than ready to gear up physically and mentally for what will be the first of his two football seasons this calendar year.

“It’s good to get your body back acclimated to playing football, structuring your days — getting your body ready, your mind too.”

Not getting the chance to go after the 14th state title in program history is a tough pill to swallow, no doubt.

“Yeah, it’s pretty discouraging,” Odeluga said. “We’ve always thought we have the talent and coaching and everything to go back to back. [But] it was never in our control so we didn’t stress too much.”

Mount Carmel quarterback Justin Lynch had two takeaways from the long COVID layoff. One, it gave him an extended opportunity to train, and two, it’ll get him in the rhythm of what to expect when he continues his career at Temple.

“This season is kind of like [spring] practice going into college,” he said.

Not having a state trophy to play for doesn’t mean there are no meaningful goals for the Caravan to chase.

“We’re going to take every game [seriously],” he said. “We want to go 6-0.”

It’s a lot better than 0-0, which for a long time looked like what this school year would bring for the Caravan and every other team.

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