Thursday, August 28, 2014

My Game of the Week.

If you check with Google Maps on your iPhone it will show that Lincoln-Way East High School in Frankfort is about thirty miles from Oak Park and River Forest High School. Without traffic it would take you almost an hour to drive there. Now move your index finger over to the weather icon and you'll find thunderstorms in the forecast for this weekend. So, given all that, why on earth would anyone want to go to the OPRF - Lincoln-Way East football game tomorrow night?

That was the question I tried to get Huskies Coach John Hoerster and Lincoln-Way East Coach Rob Zvonar, above, to answer.

Here's how Coach Hoerster summed up the contest:

In order to win, we need to forget about winning. We just need to play within ourselves. We need to be fundamentally sound and disciplined. We also need to keep things simple, not try and "out coach" them, and put our kids in a position to play fast and free. If we can stick to the basics, limit mistakes, bounce back when adversity strikes and play with grit, no matter the score, we will be proud of our efforts.

What Lincoln Way East will throw at us is a well-coached, hard-nosed team. They will have a great crowd looking for a great game. 

This early, it's hard to speak of match-ups. But fans should look for a couple of hungry teams looking to start off the year on the right track. 

We have a ton of respect for LWE; that's why we scheduled them. In order to be great, you have to challenge yourselves. This will be a challenge, and a good test for our young team.

Now if that sounds like a bunch of "coach-ese," it's because it is. And when I spoke to Coach Zvonar on the phone this week, it was just as bad: a bunch of bromides you've heard a zillion times on TV that went in one of my ears and straight out the other.

I did learn, however, that Zvonar is the son of two teachers and the brother of another. I guess it's in his blood. He's also the father of three future Bears, as you can see in the picture at the top, and a first-rate amateur fisherman.

But when it comes to supplying bloggers with juicy quotes, these two guys are, well . . . football coaches. So it's up to people like me to tell you why you should go to this game.

But I can't, really; I can only tell you why I'll be there.

I won't bore you with all the stuff you've already read about Lincoln-Way East's storied program or OPRF's Northwestern-bound quarterback Lloyd Yates or yada, yada, yada. Besides, as my editor at the Oak Leaves told me, "our sports people will be doing a preview story as well."

But this game is really compelling. Why?

Well, for starters, these two schools have never faced each other. Never. So no one really knows how it's going to play out. But there is some history lurking beneath the surface. When Coach Hoerster was an assistant at Mount Carmel, for example, the Caravan eliminated Lincoln-Way East from the playoffs in 2006 and '08. Ouch! What's more, Huskie defensive coordinator Tim Fischer, who played with Hoerster at York High School and coached with him at Mount Carmel, is also a former member of Coach Zvonar's staff. (Lots of cross-currents here.)

Zvonar, incidentally, has rubbed elbows with some legendary coaches in his life. Growing up, he played linebacker at Monticello High School for the venerable Hud Venerable (who is now the head coach at Lincoln-Way Central). Later, Zvonar was an assistant for six years at Central under head coach Rob Glielmi (try pronouncing that one). I told you there were a lot of cross-currents here.

Also, Coach Zvonar counts Ron Tomczak and his son Steve as former members of his staff. (If that last name sounds familiar it's because they're the father and brother of Mike Tomczak, who played quarterback for the Bears in the 1980s.) Finally, Zvonar was quick to point out that Joel Pallissard, his offensive coordinator, has been coaching with him for twenty years and is really "a co-head coach."

While it may sound trite to say that this game will be the first big test for the Huskies, it's actually true. After Week One, OPRF plays Leyden and Proviso West, two teams that had losing records in 2013. Next is Downers Grove North, whom the Huskies beat last year, and York, which has fallen on hard times in recent years.

Week Six will bring the Huskies out to Glenbard West in what will surely be the biggest game of the season for OPRF. (The Huskies lost a heart-breaker to the Hilltoppers in 2013.) But that's not until Saturday, October 4 -- far, far into the future. And what if you have to go to a wedding or something that day? (As for Lincoln-Way East, they don't play another winning team from last year until September 26.)

Now, let's not kid ourselves, the Huskies will clearly be the underdog here. All that chatter you've heard about Lincoln-Way East being a perennial powerhouse is true; and, besides, they'll be playing on their home turf in front of a sell-out crowd of screaming meemies. But if Lloyd Yates and company can somehow pull off an upset -- or even make it close -- wouldn't you be glad you were there? More important, wouldn't you be mad at yourself for missing it?

So I'll see you at the game, then, right? (I'll be the guy in the UIC hat driving a Zipcar.)

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