Few high school football teams can say they started three sophomores and still made the playoffs.
Lyons Township is one of them.
The Lions qualified for the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year, a school record, in 2015 with quarterback Ben Bryant, receiver Brandon Fischer and defensive lineman Mickey Brown all playing big roles.
All three are back and poised for big things as juniors. That’s one reason the Lions are considered a sleeper team even though they have only five other returning players who were full-time starters.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Bryant is the key piece. He struggled at times during his first year on varsity but flashed big potential and impressed his coaches with his calm demeanor.
Bryant, who already has an offer from Wisconsin, threw for 1,398 yards and seven touchdowns, though his completion rate was only 48 percent and he also tossed seven interceptions.
Those numbers figure to improve dramatically, especially considering the Lions return all of their skill players.
“We’re expecting big things from him,” LTHS coach Kurt Weinberg said. “Obviously he is tremendously talented and has all the skills you want.
“I think he’s gotten more consistent and doesn’t make as many mistakes. That comes with maturity and experience.”
Weinberg, who has led the Lions to the playoffs every year since taking over in 2009, has had two other quarterbacks play at Division I schools, though both played different positions in college. He thinks Bryant can play under center at that level.
The future also appears bright for 5-10, 190-pound senior running back Reggie Terrell, who rushed 131 times for 539 yards and eight touchdowns last fall.
“A lot of people really like Reggie,” Weinberg said. “They want to see some senior film on him, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get some offers after a few games.”
Weinberg thinks Fischer also will eventually get looks from college coaches. A dual threat who can play in the backfield as well as out wide, the 5-8, 165-pounder caught 29 passes for 410 yards and two scores.
“He’s a super explosive player and that’s exciting,” Weinberg said. “He’ll play some slot and some running back.
“We’re going to try to move him around because he’s tough to guard. We’ve just got to keep him healthy because he was banged up toward the end of last year.”
The Lions have another offensive weapon in senior receiver Hasahn Austin, a solid deep threat. Austin had 20 receptions for a team-leading 438 yards and a touchdown last year. He averaged 21.9 yards per catch.
Austin and Fischer are both dangerous return men. They both averaged 18 yards on kickoff returns last season.
The advantage of having so many experienced players at skill positions cannot be overstated.
“That’s huge (for Bryant) to have a rapport with those guys,” Weinberg said. “When you know their skill sets and what to expect from them, it (leads) to good communication.”
The offensive line, though, will be green. Senior Chris Wojciak saw limited action last year, while the rest of the line could include three juniors and a sophomore.
The defense, which proved vulnerable to the running game last season, doesn’t have as many big names but the Lions have leaders at every level.
The 6-4, 285-pound Brown anchors the line and should start drawing interest from recruiters. Senior Jack Walton, who earned All-Conference honors and led the team with 60 tackles, 39 of the solos, anchors the linebacking corps, which also boasts returning starter Matt Phillipp (43 tackles).
The secondary returns seniors Howard Willis and Antwane Thigpen.
“The nice thing is we have one of the best players returning at all three levels,” Weinberg said. “That’s exciting.”
Weinberg is excited about his team’s chances despite a rugged schedule that begins with three straight road games and four in the first five weeks, including a visit to reigning Class 7A state champion Glenbard West.
The Lions are not expected to challenge Glenbard West, which has won nine straight West Suburban Silver titles, but they should be in the playoff hunt.
“I like our chances,” Weinberg said. “I like our team, but you’ve got to stay away from the injury bug. It’s a cliché, but we’re just taking it one game at a time and not looking past Warren, which will be a tough opponent.”