skip navigation

Lincoln-Way East looks to keep playoff streak alive

08/22/2014, 8:55pm CDT
By Pat Disabato |

It’s been said the only certainties in life are death and taxes. It’s possibly time to add another: Lincoln-Way East qualifying for the playoffs.

Lincoln-Way East defensive back Deji Olaleye (20) looks for an open lane after intercepting a pass intended for Joliet West wide receiver Niko Messino (31). | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media

It’s been said the only certainties in life are death and taxes.

It’s possibly time to add another: Lincoln-Way East qualifying for the playoffs.

The Griffins have reached the postseason every year of their 13-year existence, highlighted by wining the Class 8A state championship in 2005.

East’s playoff streak shows no signs of ending any time soon. Coach Rob Zvonar’s squad is perched at No. 6 in the SouthtownStar Preseason Top 10.

“We hope going into each year with the tradition and culture we have established that we have high goals,” Zvonar said. “We certainly have goals to compete for the conference championship and play a while in the playoffs. We like what we’re seeing so far from this team.”

What Griffins fans will be seeing is an offense boasting multiple playmakers and a defense that, admittedly not as physically imposing as recent years, will be quicker to the ball.

Quarterback Mike Weller energized the offense when he took over late last season. The 6-1, 180-pound senior has quite a few familiar faces around him, led by senior running back Alex Kraft (6-0, 190).

Weller will have outstanding receivers at his disposal in Paul Gossage (6-3, 170), Ken Alexa (5-11, 150), John Zelenika (5-10, 170) and Jeremy Nelson (6-2, 175), a sophomore. Tight end Bobby Paulsen (6-4, 220) is a standout as a receiver and a blocker.

“We have guys who have shown they can make big plays in big games,” Zvonar said.

The offensive line has some beef, led by seniors Max Marietti (6-5, 290) and Tim Vyhnanek (6-4, 245). Juniors Kurt Gavin (6-4, 225) and Nick Ronza (5-10, 185), as well as sophomore Sam Diehl (6-2, 245), round out the line.

“We have some threats on the edge and some big guys up front,” linebacker Luke Epich said. “We have guys who are hard to catch.”

Epich, a two-year starter and captain, leads a defense flush with experience. Seniors Jake Attar (6-1, 175), Nathan Rogers (6-1, 190) and Brad Toepter (6-1, 210) will join Epich (6-1, 215) at linebacker.

The secondary has shutdown ability with seniors Deji Olaleye, Ryan Humenik, Kyle Keuch and Lee Lieser.

The D-line isn’t as physically imposing as recent years, but Dan Stewart (6-2, 215) and Jeremy Suda (6-2, 230) have the wheels to cause some disruption in the backfield.

“You prefer bigger, thicker kids on the line, but we opted for quickness this year,” said Zvonar, who has a 124-30 record in 13 seasons. “The way offenses are today, going with a spread look, we feel we need to go with athletic types of the line.”

The Griffins finished 9-3 in 2013, falling 21-14 to Edwardsville in the Class 7A quarterfinals. Most programs would be overjoyed with a similar playoff run.

Not East.

“Obviously, we didn’t want to end our season like we did last season,” Epich said. “It’s great getting to quarterfinals, but disappointing we didn’t go further. Guys don’t want to end the season like we did last year. The expectations are always high here. We expect to go further this year.”

The journey begins Aug. 29 at home vs. Oak Park-River Forest. The Griffins travel to meet District 210 rival in Lincoln-Way Central in Week 2.

“We’re not going to have to wait long to see where we’re at,” Zvonar said. “Oak Park is an excellent team.

“Our kids have bought in and have worked hard. We’re excited and we understand the task at hand.”

Popular Stories

  • Lynn and Scott Magnesen embrace PepsiCo Showdown

  • 04/28/2014, 10:30am CDT , By George M. Wilcox | | @geomwilcox
  • A community service award named after Burr Ridge residents Lynn and Scott Magnesen will be presented at halftime of Sunday’s PepsiCo Showdown championship game.
  • Read More
  • Vernon Hill's David Dobrik, Nikita Lunkov talk way to state

  • 05/29/2014, 9:45am CDT , By Jon Kerr | For Sun-Times Media | @prepspioneer
  • One game away from being bounced out of a berth in the boys tennis state tournament, the Vernon Hills doubles team of David Dobrik and Nikita Lunkov had a brief conversation with their coach, Doug Gerber.
  • Read More
  • Mundelein's Luke Peterson progressing with Kenosha Indians

  • 07/24/2014, 11:30am CDT , By Tim Froehlig | For Sun-Times Media | @TFroehlig
  • Four innings were in the books in what would turn into a 4-3 victory, but Mundelein senior-to-be Luke Peterson and the Kenosha Indians 18U baseball team were struggling to find much offense.
  • Read More
  • Thursday's scores

  • 04/03/2014, 5:15pm CDT , By Staff Report
  • Check out all the scores and highlights from Thursday's high school action.
  • Read More

Tag(s): Lincoln-Way East  Featured  Top News  Featured  Top News  Featured  Top News  Football