No. 2 Lincoln-Way East primed for return to dominance with 16 returning starters

Rob Zvonar’s teams are consistently excellent, and this year’s group should benefit tremendously from last season’s growing pains.

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Lincoln-Way East’s Petey Olaleye completes a drill during practice.

Lincoln-Way East’s Petey Olaleye completes a drill during practice.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Football previews are built around returning starters. There aren’t preseason games, scrimmages or much else to go on. It looks good when a lot of kids are back.

But that’s not a guarantee of success. A group of juniors that has trouble scoring often turns into a group of seniors that has trouble scoring.

Lincoln-Way East is a different beast. Rob Zvonar’s teams are consistently excellent, and this year’s group should benefit tremendously from last season’s growing pains.

The No. 2 Griffins return 16 starters from a group that lost 3-0 on the road to Loyola in the Class 8A state quarterfinals.

“We had the ball and a chance to win that game at the end,” Zvonar said. “To go through that experience with a bunch of young kids gives us some cautious optimism.”

The Lincoln-Way East defense is always strong. Linebacker Jake Scianna, a three-year starter, leads the group. His two older brothers won state titles at Lincoln-Way East, and his father, Randy, played at Notre Dame.

“Our confidence is a lot higher this season,” Scianna said. “We are so much more experienced, and that is everything in high school football.”

Senior Hank Ravetto should be the standout defensive lineman, and keep an eye on promising sophomore Caden O’Rourke.

The defensive backfield is anchored by DJ Ritter and Zac Welker at safety and corners Jordan Braithwaite and JT Poynton.

Zvonar believes the Griffins’ success this season will be determined by the offense. So the quarterback situation might be a concern.

Senior Chase Arthur, who took over in the playoffs last year, is competing with junior Braden Tischer.

“They are both doing a tremendous job,” Zvonar said. “Whoever ends up playing will get the job because they played well and not because the other one played badly.”

Lincoln-Way East’s Braden Tischer rolls out to attempt a pass during practice.

Lincoln-Way East’s Braden Tischer rolls out to attempt a pass during practice.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Either quarterback will benefit from an experienced offensive line and two capable running backs — James Kwiecinski (5-11, 180 pounds) and Petey Olaleye (5-8, 195). Kwiecinski ran for more than 1,000 yards last season. Olaleye missed most of the season with an injury.

“The offense is a lot more versatile now,” Olaleye said. “Everything is running smoother, so we can open up the playbook a bit more.”

Three-year starters Brad Abbott and Will Heitner return on the offensive line, and junior Josh Janowski (6-3, 270) already has several scholarship offers.

“The running game is where it will all start,” Zvonar said. “I’m really excited about the offensive line, and it’s great to have two running backs because that is a spot where you can get dinged up.”

When Zvonar’s teams have a standout offensive talent, they are nearly unbeatable. Senior wide receiver Jayden Cook could be that guy this season. He’s playing all over the field.

“[Cook] is a tremendous athlete and an amazing student,” Zvonar said.

Zvonar, the only football coach in Lincoln-Way East’s 22 years, has built something special in Frankfort. Scianna has some insight into how he has managed it.

“It’s preparation and work ethic,” Scianna said. “The culture is built on working harder than any other team, and I really believe we do. We don’t always have big-time recruits, but we always make a deep run in the playoffs. We don’t just practice out there. It’s the sophistication of the practices that really separates us.”

Lincoln-Way East schedule

Aug. 26 at Crete-Monee
Sept. 2 vs. Batavia
Sept. 9 at Stagg
Sept. 16 vs. Andrew
Sept. 23 vs. Bolingbrook
Sept. 30 at Sandburg
Oct. 7 at Homewood-Flossmoor
Oct. 14 vs. Lockport
Oct. 21 at Bradley-Bourbonnais

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