Goss: Lincoln-Way East bids for second title behind offensive line
November 22, 2012 9:56PM
Nick Allegretti, of Lincoln-Way East
Updated: December 24, 2012 6:55AM
A stereotype in football is those “big, dumb offensive linemen.”
At Lincoln-Way East, those “tough, scholarly offensive linemen” is much more appropriate.
When the Griffins tackle Glenbard West in the Class 7A state championship between two 13-0 teams that may be the best in the state, the O-line will be operating against a Hilltoppers defense that has yielded a mere 8.4 points per game.
The heavyweight battle kicks off at 4 p.m. Saturday at the University of Illinois.
“In a sense, the O-line is a snapshot of our whole team,” East coach Rob Zvonar said. “They made their decision that they were going to improve every day, they’ve done it and they’re smart kids. Their cumulative grade-point average is right at 4 (on a 4.0 system). One kid has a 3.3 and they kid him and call him the dummy.”
Griffins quarterback Tom Fuessel is a candidate for player of the year in Illinois. Senior running backs Nick Colangelo and Justin Corbett are productive. But for those who believe football games are won in the trenches, the ability of East’s O-line to create space may be the major factor in whether the Griffins gain their second state championship. The first came in 2005.
Junior center Nick Allegretti, a 6-foot-4, 280-pounder who has offers from Illinois and Cincinnati, anchors the unit that includes senior guards Nick Cocorikis and Mitch Arvidson and senior tackles Tom Plunkett and Ryan Weitendorf. Plunkett weighs 270, but the other three are not big. Just effective.
“(Assistant coaches) Jack Eddy and Mark Vander Kooi have done a great job with the line and the kids have picked up the technique and schemes real well,” Zvonar said. “We have all seniors in our offensive line almost every year. Nick (Allegretti) is the exception, starting as a sophomore and a junior.
“We have a special group of seniors on this team and certainly the guys on the offensive line are a big part of that.”
Another key against Glenbard West will be East’s defense, which has allowed 10.8 points per game, getting the ball back for the offense. The Hilltoppers feature a 1,250-yard rusher in junior Scott Andrew, another good runner in senior Joe Zito, and the passing combination of senior quarterback Henry Haeffner (95-of-149, 1,715 yards) to senior tight end Nathan Marcus (51-for-844, seven touchdowns).
“We have to prevent big plays and can’t let them control the clock,” Zvonar said. “We have to give Tommy (Fuessel) and our offensive skill kids opportunities. Tommy’s an All-Stater. You feel he will break through at some point if he gets the opportunities.”
Zvonar has coached East since the Griffins came into existence in 2001. This is their 12th consecutive playoff appearance.
The 2005 team beat Maine South 30-24 in two overtimes to win the 8A state title. The 2004 and 2006 teams lost in the semifinals.
“In ’05 and ’06, we still had the Lincoln-Way North kids,” Zvonar noted. “So from that perspective, you can say this is the best season in our school’s history. These kids have played with a never-satisfied attitude. They have answered every challenge. With their maturity, character and confidence, it’s been reassuring the way they have gone about their business.
“They have adopted a slogan, ‘One play longer, one play stronger.’ ”
It is a distant memory but there were question marks about the Griffins before the season began.
“That was because we had only four of five returning starters, two or three on offense and two on defense,” Zvonar said. “It was a disappointing end to last year, losing in the second round (7-0 to Wheaton Warrenville South).
“After that, these kids made a total commitment on and off the field. By mid-July, I started to feel this team could be special. We saw they would play with a certain aggressiveness and physicality.”
Zvonar, who played college football at Illinois Wesleyan, grew up in Monticello, not far from Champaign.
“My father and mother went to the U of I,” he said. “I would have loved to play there, but I was short and slow, so I was perfect for Division III.
“It’s a small world. I played for Hud (Venerable, the Lincoln-Way Central athletic director) at Monticello.”
But while this is a trip back home for Zvonar, it is all business.
“This is all about the kids,” he said. “When we won in 2005, it was a blur, but I do remember how special our fans made it. I hope it’s that way again.
“Glenbard West has no weaknesses and Chad Hetlet (Hilltoppers coach) has what is arguably the best program in the state. We went up there in 2010 (for a second-round game) and got our butts beat (42-28).”
Not this time. I like Lincoln-Way East 24-17.