There is something special for me about High School Football. I look forward to the start of each new season and this year is no different. Of course, sometimes it feels as if you are riding a roller coaster too, as you try and figure out which teams will be able to overcome their losses to graduation and still be able to compete. For some programs it seems as if they have a predictable cycle of having a successful season or two and then go into a rebuilding one. Consistency can be the most challenging aspect to High School Sports. Yet, there are those special programs who have shown themselves to be models of consistency.
One such example in the South West Suburban Area is Lincoln-Way East.
Perhaps one of the fascinating things about the Lincoln-Way East Griffins is that they are also a relatively new program. They began their program 11 years ago when the Lincoln-Way school district had to split for the first time, but not the last. Either way, the Griffins were created and have been coached by Rob Zvonar ever since. Amazingly, this team has also qualified for Illinois High School Association (IHSA) State Playoffs 11 straight years and have already won a State Championship, the 8A Title in 2005 after rolling to a perfect 14-0 season!
The fact that the Lincoln-Way Griffins play in a very tough Southwest Suburban Blue Conference while posting 8 or more wins in eight of its eleven years of existence, and 9 or more wins the past seven is even more impressive. That consistency has earned the Griffins the conference title, either outright or shared, six times in the last nine years!
For those unfamiliar with the Southwest Suburban Blue, this is not a conference filled with "ducks." This conference is loaded with the likes of the Bolingbrook Raiders, Lockport Porters, Homewood-Flossmoor Vikings, Sandburg Eagles and Lincoln-Way Central Knights. In addition to those regular winners, there is also the Joliet program, which did away with their "unified" team approach last year. Even though Joliet has endured some down years they will get better much sooner than later. I have to tell you, this is as rugged a conference as it gets. So to win here on a regular basis is a tall order at best.
I don't know what the 2011-2012 Season will bring for Lockport (Coach Kooi resignation) or Bolingbrook, although they both qualified for the state playoffs, both had tough seasons. But this still was a conference in which every team except Joliet Central, Joliet West and Lincoln-Way Central qualified for a state playoff spot. But, Lincoln-Way East will return many of its starters from a 9-2 team. Those returning on offense will be last year's starting quarterback Blake Winkler (1,773 Yds, 20 TD's), last year's 2nd leading rusher Tyler Starke and top receiver J.J. Robertson. The Griffins will also welcome back Al Hern, Frank Toland, Josh Bottoms and Dan Patteson on the offensive line. None were starters but all four were key contributors. Defensively, starting defensive tackle Matt Solner, starting linebacker Jake Aleck and secondary starters, Kevin Slawkowski and Joe Tomasik are returning as well. All will be seniors this year, but given the trend that Coach Zvonar will play underclassmen in key backup roles, the Griffins not only look good for this season, but next year too.
Lincoln-Way East will open their season August 26th when they travel to ISU's Hancock Stadium to face a tough Southwest Conference representative, the Edwardsville Tigers. The Tigers defeated the Griffins 37-14 in last year's opener, at the same location. I don't know if the results will be any different this year, but, the following week they will face the Chicago Dunbar Mightymen, who were 6-6 last season. Perhaps a 1-1 start? 2-0? I don't know, but I still have to pick Lincoln-Way East as my prohibitive favorite to win the Southwest Suburban Blue in 2011.
My early predictions are as follows:
1. Lincoln-Way East, 2. Sandburg, 3. Bolingbrook, 4. Homewood-Flossmoor, 5. Lockport, 6. Lincoln-Way Central, 7. Joliet West, 8. Joliet Central
Again, there is nothing written in stone, but Lincoln-Way East's consistency in winning as well as a strong cast of returning starters is hard to overlook. However, I still expect to see Coach Dave Wierzal's Sandburg Eagles ready to give them a run for their money after their 8-3 record last season. I am not sure how many returning players Homewood-Flossmoor has from their 10-3 team, but if my memory serves me correctly, I believe they lost more than a few key starters. However, Coach Buzea will have that team prepared and competing at a high level. As will Bolingbrook (5-5) Coach John Ivlow. My biggest question mark in the conference is how well the Lockport Porters (5-5) will adapt to their new coach, Don McKillip.
As for Joliet West (2-7) Lincoln-Way Central (1-8) and Joliet Central (0-9), all three should improve over last year's records. Especially Lincoln-Way Central. Joliet West and Central appear to look as they are the weakest two squads for at least another year. But, I certainly wouldn't look ahead at the following week's schedule prior to playing them because they will surprise you if you do.
The Southwest Suburban Blue is one of the best!
Tags: 2011 High School Football Predictions, Blake Winkler, Bolingbrook Raiders, Edwardsville Tigers, Football, High School Football, Homewood-Flossmoor Vikings, IHSA, Joliet Central Steelmen, Joliet West Tigers, Lincoln-Way Central Knights, Lincoln-Way East Griffins, Lincoln-Way East High School, Lockport Porters, Sandburg Eagles, Southwest Suburban Blue Conference, Sports