The Lincoln-Way East High School football players could not feel much better about the team as they took a 10-0 record into the second round of the playoffs last season. But the team's fairytale story came to a screeching halt as it was shutout by Wheaton Warrenville South.
That hasn't stopped the Griffins, though, from setting their sights on a state championship this season. If anything, that loss has fueled their drive.
"These kids have fought back hard," said head coach Rob Zvonar of the work the team has put in since its playoff defeat. "I think the biggest thing we learned from that experience is that we certainly got to cherish every moment, and you can’t take anything for granted, because it can come to an end at any time as an individual or as a team."
Getting to 10-0 once again will not be easy. The Griffins lost 15 players that graduated and moved on to college football summer camps this year.
Patch caught up with Zvonar to talk about the offseason and how he thinks L-W East can move past last year's playoffs.
Patch: What are your goals and expectations for this year’s 2012 Lincoln-Way East varsity football team?
Rob Zvonar: We made a 100-percent commitment to come back from the season a year ago and absolutely take one day at a time. From a coaching perspective, we can always go back and say that’d we like to come out and be successful in our first two non-conference game, and then we’d like to compete for the very rugged Southwest Suburban Blue Conference championship and then hopefully make a deep run in the playoffs. But in terms of the players, it’s really one day at a time, and if you do enough, you should be able to accomplish those goals.
How do you think the team has grown after losing in the second round of the 2011 Class 7A playoffs to Weaton Warrenville South?
The season came to a little more of an abrupt end than we’d like. These kids have fought back hard after getting off to a 10-0 start. There certainly was some looking ahead, but we knew we were facing one of the best programs in the state, if not the Midwest. It wasn’t neccesarily an upset. I think the biggest thing we learned from that experience is that we certainly got to cherish every moment, and you can’t take anything for granted. Because it can come to an end at any time as an individual or as a team.
What is one point of emphasis that you really want to get across to your players?
Not to be redundant, but each day, you’ve got to get out there and improve. Don’t take a minute off. Even if you want to coast a little bit before you get to team workouts. It’s staying at a high level 100 percent of the time.
Why should other teams be afraid of the 2012 Griffins?
Looking at our schedule, there are too good of teams to be afraid, but hopefully, we’ve established ourselves as a program that will go out and play hard and physical on a week-to-week basis. So I’m quite sure that “afraid” is not a word that any of our opponents have for us. But hopefully, a respect like we have for them, which you show by prepping as hard as you can each week.
What matchup on the schedule are you looking forward to the most?
There’s really nothing that you can say about looking ahead, because you’ll have some losses going into this or that game. We have tremendous rivalries with some teams in our conference, and we get excited about playing all of them, but you know you have to be ready week in and week out in this league.
How would you say your team’s chemistry has developed throughout the summer?
We’ve got tremendous senior leaderships, so when that happens you usually feel good about your team. You want to have a team identity, and these kids have done a great job since last year. This group of seniors have been extremely successful throughout high school. They’re doing a great job not only leading each other, but leading our younger kids. So, I think when you have great seniors not only on the field, but character off the field, you’ve got a chance for that good chemistry. It’s kind of one of those things that’s tough to give a concrete definition to, but we feel very positive about our leadership and chemistry.
What is your team's biggest strength and weakness?
I think strength-wise you look to our offensive backfield where we’ve got tough runners who have the ability to run and throw the ball. As far as the weakness, it’s got to be having a little bit of inexperience. We set a school record with 15 seniors who are in college football camps right now. So when you know when you have 15 seniors in college who are playing ball there, you’ve got some shoes to fill. … The lack of experience is always a question mark when you have that.
What does your team need to improve on this year?
I think it’s just getting some game experience without a doubt. I think we can be in the weight room or out on the practice field for hours and hours, but until you’re out there doing it live on a Friday night, you don’t get it. Until you have game experience out there against big crowds and great opponents, so that’s what we need to be the best football team we can be.
From what you’ve seen thus far, does this team have what it takes to win a state championship?
I’m just hoping we can put our pads on tomorrow. That’s the furthest thing from our mind. I think at this stage of the game you just hope you’ve got the opportunity to compete on your schedule. If you can compete in our schedule then that means you can at least throw your hat in the ring and see what happens.
Lincoln-Way East plays its first game of the season at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24, against Carmel-Mundelein at home. Here's a look at the complete regular-season schedule:
- Aug. 24: vs. Carmel-Mundelein (7:30 p.m.)
- Aug. 31: at Montini (7:30 p.m.)
- Sept. 7: at Lockport (7:30 p.m.)
- Sept. 14: vs. Homewood-Flossmoor (7:30 p.m.)
- Sept. 21: at Sandburg (7:15 p.m.)
- Sept. 28: vs. Bolingbrook (7:30 p.m.)
- Oct. 5: vs. Lincoln-Way Central (7:30 p.m.)
- Oct. 13: at Joliet Central (1 p.m.)
- Oct. 19: vs. Joliet West (7:30 p.m.)
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect location for L-W East's home-opener.
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