During a scrimmage for its fans last Friday night, the Lyons Township football team put on a good show and offered a promising sneak preview of what's expected this season. With aspirations of a Class 8A championship and a West Suburban (Silver) Conference title, the curtain goes up for real Friday night when the Lions host Sandburg at 7:30 p.m. at Bennett Field.
Building off last season's 5-5 mark, which included an impressive five-game winning streak and a playoff appearance, the Lions return 11 starters and a host of other talented players. There is a palpable buzz surrounding the team, reinforced by a Top 20 ranking in the Chicago Sun-Times preseason football poll. However, head coach Jack Derning, embarking on his 17th campaign at Lyons Township, knows credentials only truly matter at the end of the season.
"Our kids were 5-2 and had a 4-0 record in conference at one point last season, but we lost our last three games. They are not satisfied," Derning said. "It's a very focused team right now. We had a successful off-season. Our football team made significant improvements in overall team speed and strength."
On offense, the Lions will run a triple-option attack featuring All-conference senior running back Casey McMurray. McMurray, who enjoyed a stellar junior year as an All-state baseball player and wrestling state tournament finalist, will be complemented by Luke Gacek and Tyrand Williams to form a terrific trio of running backs. Senior quarterback Beau Spreck (6-foot, 160) gets the starting nod under center but may be pushed by strong armed 6-3, 205-pound junior Eddie Viliunas.
In the trenches, two returning starters in right guard Alex Segal (5-11, 250) and left guard Ryan Jacobs (6-3, 195) steady the offensive line, along with center Mike Handke (6-3, 218), imposing right tackle Jeff Adams (6-6, 245) and left tackle Victor Metroff. (5-10, 258). Jerry Rigo (6-3, 270) may also see playing time at left tackle.
Alex Georges, Chris Arquilla, Pat Stafford, and Mike Kogut are essentially interchangeable wide receivers that run good routes. Tight end Zach Saban primarily will be blocking and placekicker Chris Cklamovski replaces his brother Mike, who walked on at the University of Illinois.
Defensively, Les Bates, an outstanding 6-foot, 210-pound senior linebacker will spearhead the Lions' 3-4 defense. Inside linebacker Mark Nolan (6-foot, 192) adds toughness and speed in the middle with Bates. Matt Gralen and Bobby Olszewski, who broke his collarbone last season, are the two outside linebackers.
Henry Doris, a big hitter at safety/cornerback, leads a versatile secondary that includes Mark Hochberg, Alex Sewall, Billy Doyle and Josh Heller.
The defensive line is an area of concern for Derning. Fortunately, he has a plethora of players to choose from in identifying the starting three down linemen. Nose guards Lee Johnson and Pat Covey will get plenty of action along with tackles Kevin Zotti, Mike Dambra, Brad Marik and Dan McCroy.
Defending conference champion York, Hinsdale Central and Downers Grove North should vie with the Lions for the WSC title.