Despite playing in the tough West Suburban Conference Silver Division, the Lyons Township High School football team has made the playoffs in each of the last five seasons under head coach Kurt Weinberg.
The Lions have done so despite getting off to slow start the past three years. They began 2-3 in 2011, 2-4 in 2012 and 1-3 last year, when they lost in the first round of the playoffs to snap a three-year run of quarterfinal appearances.
“We’ve got to get off to a stronger start,” Weinberg said. “On the positive side, [the early struggles] speaks to how good our conference is. You can put our conference as the toughest in the state.
“The negative side is you’ve got to get yourself ready to go. I’ve done a poor job of maybe conveying to the guys how important that is. It’s not like baseball or basketball where you get 30 games. You’ve only got nine of them.”
Even though the Lions face another strong schedule that begins Friday with a trip to Warren, they have the horses, at least on offense, to plow through the competition.
LTHS returns nearly all of its skill players, starting with the backfield of senior quarterback Tom Fiedler and running back Leonard Ross. Ross has committed to Miami of Ohio and Fiedler will also play in college.
“We’ve got a lot of guys back on offense but those two guys are special,” Weinberg said. “They are excellent football players.”
Just how special are they?
“Leonard Ross is the best running back I’ve ever coached and Tom Fiedler is probably the best quarterback I’ve had,” Weinberg said. “A lot of [college coaches] like Tom. They’re waiting to see some senior film on him, but I’m betting he’s probably going Ivy League because he’s a great student.”
Fiedler has plenty of weapons to work with and the explosive Ross is merely the best known. Wide receivers Emmett Corrigan, Michael Grace and Owen McNulty are returning starters. Grace and Ross also return kicks and kicker Joey Bruni and punter Nick Newsome are returning starters.
The Lions also welcome back three strong offensive linemen in guards Blaise and Chase Nacker and tackle Noah Davis. Blaise Nacker also handles the long snapping duties.
“Chase can be something special,” Weinberg said. “He’s 6-2, 250, but more importantly, for his age he’s one of the strongest kids I’ve ever coached.”
While LTHS will be strong offensively, the defense is more of a question mark as only three starters return. Senior linebacker Joe Dillon, senior defensive lineman Aaron Smith and junior defensive end Dante Stefanini are the veterans, while senior linebacker Connor Dales and senior cornerback Danny O’Malley will be counted on for leadership.
As usual, the Lions will not be favored in the WSC Silver race. That honor goes to perennial champion Glenbard West as well as Oak Park and River Forest, which has made the second round of the playoffs each of the past two years. In all, LTHS faces six teams which made the playoffs in 2013.
“I’d like to say we’re in the mix,” Weinberg said. “You can take the worst team in our conference, stick them in most other conferences and they’d make the playoffs.”
Despite the tough competition, the Lions do expect to return to the postseason.
“I love this senior class,” Weinberg said. “It’s been together for a long time. They’ve got good commitment, they like being together as a team and they’ve had a lot of success. I think we’ll be ready.”