LTHS running back Leonard Ross offers an impressive blend of size, speed and strength to power the Lions' diversified offense. (David Pierini/Staff Photographer)

The Lyons Township traveled five hours downstate to knock off O’Fallon 42-27 in the Class 8A playoffs last year. That journey pales in comparison to the impressive ground the Lions have covered since head coach Kurt Weinberg took over the program. In the past three years, Weinberg has guided the Lions to three straight quarterfinal appearances.

LTHS once again enters the upcoming campaign brimming with confidence and high expectations. The return of junior quarterback Tommy Fiedler and junior running back Leonard Ross provide considerable cause for optimism at two key positions. Both players stepped up huge last season, particularly Ross, after injuries depleted the LTHS offensive backfield.

Ross made his varsity debut in scintillating fashion, racking up 118 yards on nince with three touchdowns in the Lions’ 49-21 win over York last season. The 6-foot, 200-pound running back started the last six games of 2012 for LTHS and already has a football scholarship offer from Illinois.

He made his Lions varsity starting debut Oct. 6 in a 49-21 victory over York. He rushed for 118 yards on nine carries and scored touchdowns on rushes of one, 17 and six yards

Fiedler’s spotlight moment occurred against Hinsdale Cenrtal when he threw for 289 yards and a pair of touchdowns, replacing injured starter Zach Mahoney.

“Tommy and Leonard are the best I have ever coached  at their positions at this stage of their careers,” Weinberg said. “Tommy has all the physical tools and he’s an extremely intelligent player who genuinely wants to be great. Leonard has so much physical ability. He’s an explosive, fast running back with great vision.”

Wide receivers Marcell Kellum, Matt Mrazek and Connor Pavletic are all excellent targets in the passing game, while John O’Connor, Michael O’Malley and converted linebacker Seth Held anchor the offensive line.

Senior middle linebacker Ben Rimmele leads a linebacking corps that also features Andrew Ostrowski, AJ Villarreal and Nate Gonzalez. Villarreal is an excellent athlete who also took sixth at 152 pounds in the wrestling state finals last year in. Cat-quick nose guard Quentin Sanchez and junior defensive end Dante Steffanini lead the defensive line. Safety Kevin Palmer, Connor Gales, Lawrence Burks and Mrazek headline the secondary.

Reflective of recent years, the Lions will be blessed with several playmakers on both side of the ball, which is essential in the rough and tumble West Suburban (Silver) Conference. Class 7A defending state champion Glenbard West leads a loaded league field that includes high-end, playoff-caliber teams in the Lions, Hinsdale Central, Downers Grove North, Oak Park-River Forest and Proviso West. The continued development of the Lions’ very talented but relatively inexperienced junior class will be vital this season.

“I say this every year but our conference is as good as any in the state,” Weinberg said. “It’s a pretty short conversation when you’re talking about arguably better conferences in Illinois. I think it’s fairly consensus that the West Suburban Silver, the Chicago Catholic League Blue and the DuPage Valley are the best.”

LTHS opens the season Friday (7:30 p.m.) at home against Warren in a nonconference matchup.

“Like all of our players and coaches, I’m excited to get the season started,” Weinberg said. “LT and Warren are similar big Class 8A schools so it’s a good matchup for us to kick off the season.”

Lyons Township Lions at a glance

Lyons Township Lions

2012 record: 7-5, 3-3 West Suburban Silver; lost to Mount Carmel 45-10 in Class 8A quarterfinals

Head coach: Kurt Weinberg

Top players: Tommy Fiedler (QB); Leonard Ross (RB); Marcell Kellum (WR); Matt Mrazek (WR/DB/S); Ben Rimmele (LB); Quentin Sanchez (DL); Taj Marks (DB); AJ Villarreal (LB); Noah Murphy (DL); Dante Setfanini (DE); Emmett Corrigan (WR)

Quote: “We have a lot of speed and we’ll have nice mix of veteran players with some talented juniors coming up to the varsity.” – Weinberg

Farmer fun fact: After a 2-4 start last season, the Lions caught fire down the stretch winning three straight games to qualify for the playoffs. In the opening round of the playoffs, LTHS outlasted host Marist 34-28 in an offensive shootout.

Home Schedule

Friday, Aug. 30      Warren (7:30 p.m.)

Friday, Sept. 6        Willowbrook (7:30 p.m.)

Friday, Sept. 20      Glenbard West (7:30 p.m.)

Saturday, Oct. 12   OPRF (1:30 p.m.)

Friday, Oct. 25       Proviso West (7:30 p.m.)