No. 2 Lincoln-Way East opens as Class 8A favorite

Lincoln-Way East opens the season Saturday with an intriguing showdown against Kenwood, one of the best teams in the Public League, at Gately.

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Lincoln-Way East’s Braden Tischer gets ready to take the snap from Josh Janowski during practice.

Lincoln-Way East’s Braden Tischer gets ready to take the snap from Josh Janowski during practice.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Lincoln-Way East quarterback Braden Tischer is 5-11 and 160 pounds.

‘‘You look at him in the hallway, and he might be the water boy,’’ Griffins coach Rob Zvonar said. ‘‘But then he plays 10-foot tall and bulletproof.’’

Zvonar has been at the helm of Lincoln-Way East’s program for 23 years, the only football coach in the history of the school. In that time, he has learned that size isn’t everything. Tischer’s smarts have led to consistent improvement.

‘‘[Tischer] is the epitome of a high school football player,’’ Zvonar said. ‘‘I wouldn’t doubt if he leads a small college to a national championship down the road. It was fun to watch him evolve and become a heck of a player.’’

Tischer’s senior class is unique in Lincoln-Way East history. Zvonar’s teams typically are made up of senior starters who have waited their turn to play. The COVID spring season in 2021 changed that and has led to four players becoming three-year starters: offensive linemen Josh Janowski (Iowa) and Mike Lombardo, defensive lineman David Wuske and linebacker Connor Durkin.

‘‘We don’t have three-year starters here [typically],’’ Zvonar said. ‘‘It’s like having coaches on the field.’’

There’s experience returning all over the field for the No. 2 Griffins, who went 13-1 and lost to Loyola in the Class 8A championship game last season.

‘‘I’m cautiously optimistic,’’ Zvonar said. ‘‘We have a long way to go, but we have 12 starters back from the team that played Loyola. That’s unique. It’s fun to have that experience back as a coach. It’s kind of fun when you’re out there teaching someone and they kind of get it right away because they kind of remember it.’’

Tischer, a starter last season, has a solid group of receivers in seniors DJ Richardson, Cade Serauskis and Ryan Usher. Junior tight end Trey Zvonar, the coach’s son, had a breakout summer and is a college prospect.

Senior Nuri Muhammad and junior Zion Gist will lead the running game.

Lincoln-Way East doesn’t have the breakout star on offense typical of a top-three team. But it didn’t last season, either, and still averaged 36 points. Loyola did hold the Griffins to three points in the title game, however.

‘‘That loss just put more fuel in the fire to win state this year,’’ Janowski said. ‘‘The energy has just been crazy out here in practice. We want it all.’’

Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar speaks to players at the end of practice.

Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar speaks to players at the end of practice.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

The offensive line will be a strength, with Janowski, Lombardo, senior Nick Hochman and talented juniors Anthony Arrivo, Max Cioffi and Max Wrobel.

The Griffins are known for defense, and that unit is as strong as ever, headlined by Durkin and promising junior lineman Caden O’Rourke.

‘‘There’s a lot more speed on the defense than people realize,’’ senior defensive back Stephon Gardner said.

Lincoln-Way East opens the season Saturday with an intriguing showdown against Kenwood, one of the best teams in the Public League, at Gately. The game was rescheduled from Thursday after CPS postponed all outdoor sports because of expected excessive heat.

Its game in Week 2 at Batavia is a showcase of two of the most football-crazed public-school communities in the area. The Griffins beat Batavia last season in Frankfort.

‘‘I’m really comfortable with where we are right now,’’ Tischer said. ‘‘There were definitely some doubts about the offense last year, but I think going to the state-title game answered that. My teammates and coaches trust me.’’

Lincoln-Way East schedule

Aug. 26 vs. Kenwood at Gately

Sept. 1 at Batavia

Sept. 8 vs. Neuqua Valley

Sept. 15 vs. Bradley-Bourbonnais

Sept. 22 at Andrew

Sept. 29 at Lockport

Oct. 6 vs. Homewood-Flossmoor

Oct. 13 vs. Sandburg

Oct. 20 at Bolingbrook

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