Dedrick Dewalt came to Lane embracing change, and it looks like his players are buying in.
In their second full season under Dewalt, the Champions are 3-0 for the first time in 15 years after Saturday’s 35-0 shutout of visiting Hubbard.
Finn Merrill ran for 148 yards and a touchdown for Lane, which also had productive games from backs Casey Joyce (87 yards, two TDs) and Spiro Memmos (49 yards, two TDs). The Champions’ double-wing attack produced 274 yards on the ground.
“Last year we were able to throw the ball around, we had a bunch of receivers,” said Dewalt, who played at Boston College and had stints as a head coach and assistant at several other Public League schools before coming to Lane. “This year, our strength is our offensive line and our running backs. It’s a ball-control offense that we’re running and it’s helping our defense too.”
Running behind that line anchored by two-way starter Suleiman Butt, Lane’s backs shorten the game by limiting opponents’ possessions and running off big chunks of time on most drives.
Lane quarterback Mark Seward threw only two passes on Saturday, but one was a 31-yarder to Yiannis Katsogridakis that helped to keep the defense for Hubbard (0-3) on its toes.
Changing offensive schemes to fit the personnel isn’t the only new wrinkle Dewalt has brought to a program with a rich history. The field at Lane Stadium was recently renamed Fritz Pollard Field in honor of the Black NFL coaching and playing pioneer who is an alum.
“We’re just changing the culture here at Lane,” Dewalt said. “We’re off to a good start this year and trying to get a state playoff berth. I think it’d be really good for the school and the community as well.”
Despite having the state’s third largest enrollment with more than 4,200 students, Lane has reached the IHSA playoffs only twice since 2008. Its last state playoff win was in 2004.
But players like Butt and Merrill are helping to raise expectations.
“He’s a monster at our [offensive] guard position,” Dewalt said of Butt, a 6-3, 290-pound senior. “And we found out that he could really play defensive tackle last week [when] he had to be thrust into action due to injury. As far as offensive guard, he’s definitely one of the best, if not the best, in the city.”
How has the added workload been for Butt? “A little tiring, I’m dealing with it,” he said. “It’s fun though.”
That feeling has spread throughout the building, producing both greater roster numbers for a program that had been dressing barely 25 players in recent years and generating more fan interest.
“When we started winning again, people started getting more excited,” Butt said.
Merrill’s running helps stir up the crowd, especially when the diminutive back gets lost behind Lane’s big linemen before squeezing through a hole for a long gain.
“That’s kind of the idea,” Dewalt said of Merrill, who’s also a returning state qualifier in wrestling. “He’s small, but he’s probably the toughest guy that we have.”
“I really like this offense,” Merrill said. “I love the carries and we have a huge line that is very good, that can block for me.”