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Entering the 2019 season, the Lincoln-Way East football team has won 26 of its last 27 games dating back to August 2017.
But that one blemish — a 24-16 loss to Loyola Academy in the Class 8A semifinals last season — has lingered for the Griffins who remain on the team this year.
“Everyone still has that sour taste in their mouths after last year’s loss,” said senior running back/wide receiver AJ Henning, a Michigan recruit who also was on the 2017 state championship team. “We just want to bounce back. We’ve been working hard all summer, and we’ll be ready to go this year.”
With two years of varsity experience, Henning — a captain this season — is to lead an offense that brings back depth at the running back position but will have new faces everywhere else.
Rounding out the running backs will be senior Devon Williams and junior Jamal Johnson, who both played big roles on the Griffins last season.
At wide receiver, the Griffins have seniors David Falb, Chauncey Hicks, Christian Hoxha, Zach Melby and Sam Paliga expected to get into the mix. Similarly, this year’s offensive line will be anchored by seniors Logan Blondin, Kevin Kuchta, Alec Ogarek, John Lianopoulos, Brandon Rusinak, Christian Schletz and captain Martin Hoban.
As last year’s offensive line was senior-dominated, Hoban said this year’s group has big shoes to fill.
“We like to think we’re a pretty good unit, but we’ve got to prove that,” Hoban said.
Another key returner will be senior kicker Dominic Dzioban, a Miami University recruit.
Meanwhile, at quarterback, senior Kyle Quinn is set to take the reins of the Griffins’ offense.
“I think this year’s offense will emulate that 2017 state championship offense with Brendan Morrissey,” Henning said. “Quinn can make plays in the air, as well as on his feet. It should be a lot of fun.
“We’ve got playmakers all over the field, so I feel like it will be very hard to stop us this year offensively.”
The same can be said of the Griffins’ defense, starting with the defensive line. East defensive ends Adrian Wilson and Sean McLaughlin — key contributors from last season — are both captains and will be expected to lead the group.
“We just want to take it one day at a time,” Wilson said. “Our coach goes to microscopic goals, and that’s keeping it 6 inches in front of our face and making sure to focus on each week and not looking forward to state — because once you get looking forward to the long goals, that’s when you miss your short ones and then come up short.”
McLaughlin, a Northwestern recruit, said the defense has been made better this summer by having to continually go up against the team’s talented offense.
“Going against this offense was one of the best things for us,” he said. “You’re going against the most explosive player in the state with AJ, and then it just keeps going back and forth.”
It has created an edge to the team.
“We’re going to be the most feared,” McLaughlin said of the defense. “We’re so close this year that the minute someone makes a mistake, there is someone there to back them up. We’ve just got to play 11 as one. That’s one of the biggest things.”
Joining Wilson and McLaughlin on the defensive line will be seniors Silas Haberkorn, Jaron Hacha, Jacob Jaber, Kevin Jordan and Zack Richter.
Defensive backs expected to get in on the mix this year include seniors Larry Burks, Wilber Milhouse, Maguire Pallissard, Andy Tsamis, Cade Arthur, Jalen Hacha, Josh Vargas and Chase Zawilinski.
The middle of the defense will be manned by senior outside linebackers Bruno Cap and Jameel Mukarram, with seniors Jack Brothen and captain Jake Kramer handling the interior.
“We carry a rich tradition here of trying to be the most feared defense in the state each year,” Kramer said. “We’re just trying to carry on the baton from last year.”
He also said last year’s loss in the playoffs was a motivator all offseason.
“We’re just trying to teach these guys that no matter what it is, take every single day like it’s your last day on defense or football in general, because you never know when it’s going to be,” Kramer said. “And we’re just trying to take every single day to become the best possible team we can be.”
He said with how much work the group has put in from weight-training programs in the winter and spring, and camps in the summer, the players have formed a tight bond.
“We’ve been working together, and we’re basically like a family,” Kramer said. “We know each other better than some of our brothers and sisters and moms and dads. We’re ready to be out there to fight for each other and be the best possible team we can be — and finally get to hit somebody with a different [uniform] color.”
That first game will be at home Friday, Aug. 30, against Stevenson.
“Starting at home against another storied program, it’s going to be special,” Hoban said.
The road ahead
• Week 1 - hosts Stevenson, 7:30 p.m., Aug. 30
• Week 2 - at Naperville Central, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 6
• Week 3 - hosts Bradley-Bourbonnais, 7 p.m. Sept. 13
• Week 4 - at Bolingbrook, 7 p.m. Sept. 20
• Week 5 – hosts Homewood-Flossmoor, 7 p.m. Sept. 27
• Week 6 - at Lincoln-Way Central, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4
• Week 7 - hosts Lockport, 7 p.m. Oct. 11
• Week 8 - at Sandburg, 7 p.m. Oct. 1
• Week 9 - hosts Lincoln-Way West, 7 p.m. Oct. 25
Home Sweet Home
Lincoln-Way East has been able to win and stomp opponents into dust just about anywhere it wants. But East is especially a beast at home. The team has a 17-game winning streak in Frankfort and has not lost a game there since a 35-30 setback to Homewood-Flossmoor on Sept. 9, 2016.