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Last year, the Lincoln-Way West football team had a cakewalk in its season opener against Case from Racine, Wisconsin, winning 41-0.
This year is a bit different. The Warriors open their season on the road at Hersey on Aug. 30 — a team that made it to the second round of the 7A IHSA playoffs in 2018. West then comes home to play Evanston on Sept. 6 — another playoff team from last season.
With an already tough conference schedule year after year — and now with the addition of Hersey, Evanston and Lincoln-Way East in the final game of the season — the Warriors see a tall task ahead of them.
“The first two games are so big and they’re against really good programs, I really haven’t thought about anyone else,” West coach Dave Ernst said. “That’s gotten all of our focus right now. With the conference schedule the way it is and then you throw two non-conference games in there that are really tough, it’s the toughest schedule we’ve ever had, by far.”
One way or another, West is going to find out where it is right away, Ernst said.
It has been said before: West is going to be a young team in 2019. With just a handful returning starters, it is different for a lot of those returners who were used to an experience-stacked team.
But it is not the amount of players returning that has Ernst excited for this season; it is who is returning. A few of those players are senior running back Caleb Marconi, senior linebacker Griffin Ketelaar and senior defensive lineman Matt Nevin.
West also returns senior wide receiver Billy Dozier, who was used heavily last year as a target on offense.
“We have a couple of juniors that maybe weren’t on the field a whole lot [last year] that we feel real good about, people don’t know about,” Ernst said. “And the seven or eight guys we have coming back, most are three-year starters.”
Marconi split time at running back last year with Donte Barber, who graduated. As a junior, Marconi already had planted himself in as a leader for the Warriors, and now as a senior it is even more important for him.
“Senior year, I’m basically taking the captain role and trying to be more of a leader,” he said. “Now it’s time to lead by example. When I’m on the field, I want to show good body posture and good energy. Your actions are a lot more important when you’re a senior.”
In past years for the Warriors, the offensive line has been the upperclassmen and the leaders for the team, but this year, most of the experience lies in the skilled position players.
“We have guys that can score touchdowns, so that’s always good,” Marconi said. “But I’m not worried about our [offensive line] at all with it being young. They’re going to get the job done. They’re really fast. So, it’s going to be no problem there.”
Another spot on the field that needed filling was the quarterback one. West is carrying two this season, with senior Brody Ceh and Evan Wydajewski looking to contribute in that spot. Ernst has loved what both players have shown him.
Ceh, although he did not play much in 2018, still has an experience edge having been around the team.
“He’s smart, he’s tough and it’s really important to him,” Ernst said. “He’s constantly thinking about it, constantly working on it and improves his game constantly.
Ernst also had positive things to say about Wydajewski, but the experience of being around the team a year longer may give Ceh the upper hand.
West also will be counting on several new potential starters to step up, including junior offensive lineman Zach Gouty, junior defensive lineman Dom Sherman, senior linebacker Dan Soraghan, sophomore defensive back/receiver Eric Nowak, sophomore defensive back Justin Harris and sophomore tight end Quentin Villa.
Ernst is confident his team will put the pieces together and form a strong unit.
“It will take some time, but we should be where we always are at the end of the season: very good,” he said.
The road ahead
• Week 1 - at Hersey, 7 p.m. Aug. 30
• Week 2 - hosts Evanston, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 6
• Week 3 - at Sandburg, 7 p.m. Sept. 13
• Week 4 - hosts Andrew, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20
• Week 5 – hosts Lincoln-Way Central, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27
• Week 6 - at Stagg, 7:15 p.m. Oct. 4
• Week 7 - hosts Homewood-Flossmoor, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11
• Week 8 - at Bradley-Bourbonnais, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18
• Week 9 - at Lincoln-Way East, 7 p.m. Oct. 25
Time After Time
Lincoln-Way West is making a habit of qualifying for the state playoffs.
You can set your watch — and Fitbit — by it. The first team in school history did not qualify, but since then the Warriors have qualified nine straight times and hope to make it 10 in a row this season.