Preseason No. 7 - Lincoln-Way East

No. 7 Lincoln-Way East

Last season: 9-2 overall, 6-1 Southwest Suburban Blue, lost in 7A second round

Season ahead: Throughout most of the 2009 season, Lincoln-Way East was considered to be in the same category with the state’s elite teams.

Aside from a hiccup against Bolingbrook during the regular season, the Griffins were unstoppable. They scored 39.2 points a game and allowed only 11.1. Their 28.1 average margin of victory was on par with eventual state champions Cary-Grove, Maine South and Wheaton Warrenville South.

When the playoffs arrived, though, the comparison between the Griffins and those state powers ended. Lincoln-Way East stumbled in the second round and was upset by fifth-seeded O’Fallon.

“We felt our season ended too abruptly,” Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar said. “It was a wake-up call for us. It was a lesson for our football team that you not only can’t take a single week for granted, but you can’t take one single day for granted.”

The Griffins are riding that mentality this season. With a number of returnees on both sides of the ball, Lincoln-Way East is looking to start off as it did last season, but end it differently.

Offensively, the Griffins’ strength looks to be its offensive line. Joe Mizera, a Division-I prospect, Russ Nolan and Mike Pokorney all return on the line. The line will be blocking for a new quarterback, junior Blake Winkler, and a new backfield. Winkler, who started on the sophomore team last year, has drawn comparisons to former Griffins quarterback Anthony Kropp, who led the team to a state championship in 2005.

“He has a great IQ and great arm strength,” Zvonar said. “He’s confident in the huddle.”

On the defensive side, Lincoln-Way East should be dominant again. Defensive linemen DeAndre Slate, another D-I prospect, Ian Luscombe, Dimitri Simmons and Joel Magrum have size and speed. Patrick Meehan, a Colorado State recruit, and Jimmy Wilson should give the Griffins a strong presence at linebacker. Defensive back Collin Hickey also returns.

Player to watch: Linebacker Patrick Meehan was one of the main reasons the Griffins held opponents to so few points last year. Meehan had 77 tackles, six tackles for a loss and two sacks last year. He’s a combination of power and speed.

Newcomer to watch: Junior quarterback Blake Winkler

Key game: Oct. 8 vs. Bolingbrook -- The Raiders were the lone team to defeat Lincoln-Way East in the Southwest Suburban Blue last season, and Bolingbrook left no doubt about it with a 46-24 victory. The Griffins will be looking for revenge and a shot at another conference title.

What they’re saying: “We’re cautiously optimistic,” Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar said. “We’re built a lot more on experience and youth this year. It’s a little bit of the unknown when you have so many players who have not had game experience. You can simulate all you want, but you don’t know until you get out there.”