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Lincoln-Way Central’s 6-4 season in 2018 was solid but far from satisfying. That is especially true in light of the way it ended, with a 52-13 thrashing at the hands of Hersey in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs.
“We’re not OK with just making the playoffs,” Central coach Jeremy Cordell said. “We’re not satisfied with that. We had some good moments last year, but our kids were not happy with the way it ended. We’ve worked hard all offseason to try to get better and go as deep in the playoffs as we can.”
Cordell said he thinks the Knights have the pieces in place to make that happen.
On offense, it all starts with a veteran line as seniors Jake Leggero, Rikki Dobson, Collin Bockover and Keith Kaminski all return as starters.
“All those guys coming back, they’re best friends,” Cordell said. “They’re very cohesive together. Not all of them are the biggest guys in the world, but they work hard and they work really good together.”
They will be in charge of protecting senior quarterback Liam Higgins, who looks to take advantage of his first opportunity to start.
“Liam’s a multi-sport athlete, a catcher in baseball, and he’s a very good competitor,” Cordell said. “He bided his time last year and he did a good job working with our scout team, pushing to get better every day. He wanted to leave no doubt that it was his starting position. He separated himself. He has great senior leadership.”
Higgins will have plenty of help in the backfield, especially with senior running back Danny Reyna returning. Reyna is a versatile back who can make things happen in the rushing and passing games.
“Last year was my first year starting,” Reyna said. “I was a little hesitant, but once I got in a groove I was there. This year, I know I can play and I know I can do better.
“I’m very comfortable. I know what I have to do, where I need to be. I’m not even going to think about my assignments; I’m just going to play.”
Reyna’s comfort level extends to his relationship with his offensive line, as well.
“I’ve been playing with those guys on the line since freshman year and with some of them even before that,” he said. “All our running backs have experience, too. Our offense as a whole can be a strength.”
Cordell likes Reyna’s willingness to do whatever is needed.
“Danny’s special,” Cordell said. “He’s a no-nonsense type of player. Whether it’s having him block, giving him the ball, throwing it to him, putting him out on special teams or defense, whatever you need him to do, he’ll do and he doesn’t bat an eye. I’ve never seen a kid so focused play in and play out. That ability to be dialed in every play is what makes guys special.”
Junior running backs Carter Bojan and Henry Woods, junior receiver Nolan Recker and senior tight end Colin Shanahan also are expected to play large roles on the offense.
The Knights’ defense also is anchored by seniors, including defensive back Ian Troester and linebacker Zach Orr.
“Ian and Zach are very coachable, extremely hard workers,” Cordell said. “Zach is good against us the run, can get in the passing lane. Ian is just a ball hawk. He had a big year last year with six or seven interceptions, and we expect big things out of him this year.”
Troester is moving from cornerback to safety this season.
“Playing safety, I definitely want to be a leader of the defense,” he said. “It’s a change, but I played safety as a sophomore, so it’s still fresh in my mind, and I feel comfortable at both positions.”
Senior linebacker Luke Juricek also is a returning starter, while senior linebacker TJ Hincks, junior linebacker Cory Fulkerson, senior defensive lineman Nick Farrell and junior defensive lineman Kyle Shalati are expected to step into big roles.
Orr is optimistic about the group the Knights have on defense.
“Our experience, our quickness to the ball and our will to win are the things I like about our team,” he said. “I’m very excited. I get to play with my boys, and I know they’re all going to do what they have to do to get the job done.”
Orr and Troester both feel this group has a strong bond. That is something Cordell also sees.
“We have a really, really good group,” Cordell said. “I think they do a good job connecting with each other. With high school football, that’s half the battle, having guys that want to work for each other, compete for each other.”
The Knights hope it all leads to some postseason redemption.
“It makes me mad thinking about last year and how we lost in the first round,” Orr said. “There’s a chip on our shoulder to make sure we go deeper into the playoffs this year.”
The road ahead
• Week 1 - hosts Richards, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 30
• Week 2 - at Bloomington, 1 p.m. Sept. 7
• Week 3 - at Lockport, 7 p.m. Sept. 13
• Week 4 - hosts Bradley-Bourbonnais, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20
• Week 5 – at Lincoln-Way West, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27
• Week 6 - hosts Lincoln-Way East, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4
• Week 7 - at Andrew, 7 p.m. Oct. 11
• Week 8 - hosts Stagg, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18
• Week 9 - at Homewood-Flossmoor, 7 p.m. Oct. 25
Lincoln-Way Central is eyeing its fourth straight playoff appearance. Some of the heroes who could play a big part in this fearsome foursome accomplishment are running back Dan Reyna and defensive back Ian Troester.