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LT Football Team Seeks Higher Level of Success

The area-ranked Lyons Township football team has big plans for 2011 after reaching the Class 8A state quarterfinals and sharing the conference title last season.

LYONS TOWNSHIP FOOTBALL PREVIEW

HEAD COACH: Kurt Weinberg (15-7 record in 2 seasons at LT; 68-46 in 11 seasons as head coach)

2010 RESULTS: 10-2 overall; 5-1 in West Suburban Conference Silver Division (tied for 1st with York and Glenbard West); reached Class 8A state quarterfinals before losing to Mt. Carmel 41-10

RETURNING STARTERS: Seniors Evan Booth (5-11, 175 WR/CB), Corey Jefko (6-3, 218 DE), Jaime Jones (5-9, 195 RB), Will Konstant (6-1, 195 S/WR), Robert Mitchell (5-11, 210 MLB), Anthony Simonelli (6-1, 220 ORG/DL), Mike Thomas (5-11, 170 S/WR), Rennick Thompson (6-3, 185 WR); and junior Matt Harris (5-10, 160 WR/CB)

OTHER VARSITY RETURNEES: Seniors Grant Fosberg (6-4, 270 ORT), Cody Kutay (6-2, 205 DT), Spencer Phillips (6-0, 170 PK), Jason Plagens (5-10, 240 OLG), Adam Rodgers (6-2, 250 DT) and Connor Wasz (5-9, 155 WR/CB)

KEY VARSITY NEWCOMERS: Juniors Jamari Burks (5-10, 152 WR/CB), Victor Conforti (5-6, 140 CB), Billy Cramsie (6-0, 205 LB), Tim DeLacey (6-1, 210 C), Nick Demes (6-3, 240 OLT), Jake Elliot (5-10, 150 PK), Patrick Kelley (6-0, 195 LB), Jimmy Mitchell (6-1, 240 DT), Luke Nelson (5-11, 166 P), Connor Onion (5-11, 170 QB), John Phillipp (6-1, 190 LB) and Dylante Pleasant (6-0, 170 MLB)

OUTLOOK: The Lions took big steps last season, earning a share of their first Silver title since 2007, winning their first playoff game since 2004 and reaching the quarterfinals of the state playoffs for just the second time in program history.

The impact of that success already is being felt.

“We had a phenomenal offseason in terms of guys buying into the weight room. Seeing that enthusiasm and excitement translate from football to the weight room was evident,” Weinberg said. “Every time you have something like that (season), the bar gets raised. Now they’re hungry for it and it raises everybody’s expectations.”

Led by 2010 All-WSC Silver selections Harris and Jones, the Lions boast several returning starters, and they’ll need to be in sync from the start.

Although area ranked, LT opens its season with three home games against other ranked opponents: Stevenson (at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Western Springs), Downers Grove South and Glenbard West. LT surprised the Hilltoppers 31-13 in last year’s regular-season finale to force a three-way tie for the Silver crown.

“We’re going to find out some interesting things the first three weeks. I think it would be very difficult to find a team that has a tougher schedule than us,” said Weinberg, also LT’s offensive coordinator.

“I think we’re quite fast. It’s one of the fastest teams I’ve been associated with. I think offensively we’ve got guys that in space make things happen. I think (Harris is a) pretty special football player. I’m excited really featuring him and also returning a great running back in Jaime Jones. The full complement of skill players is exciting.”

Harris again will contribute at wide receiver and cornerback and return kickoffs. He also will be on the punt team more regularly after returning just four in 2010.

Adding to the receiver rotation are returning starters Thompson (6 catches, 55 yards in 2010) and Booth (5 catches, 65 yards), explosive Burks, Wasz, Konstant and Thomas. Konstant and Thomas are returning starters but from the defensive secondary. Wasz also saw considerable playing time last season.

Still just a junior, Harris scored three TDs last season, one each as a rusher (116 yards on 15 carries), receiver (12 catches, 132 yards) and kickoffs, returning one 88 yards for a TD against Downers Grove North. Another kickoff return for a TD in that game was called back by a penalty.

“Matthew is the best player I’ve ever coached. You’re going to see him doing more and more and we’ve got him for another two years,” Weinberg said.

Jones rushed for 866 yards on 151 carries with 11 TDs last season and also had seven receptions for 92 yards and a TD.

Jones, Konstant, Thomas and Thomas are this year’s co-captains.

“We’re obviously real excited about the year (Jones) had last year,” Weinberg said. “He’s an explosive guy. He put on weight and hasn’t really lost a step. We think he’s a little more powerful. He has great balance, great vision, understands what he’s doing.”

Weinberg feels that new junior quarterback Connor Onion has the arm to get the talented receivers the ball. Onion was 7-for-8 passing for 95 yards and 2 TDs as a backup in 2010. An inexperienced offensive line has just one returning starter, Simonelli, who played solely on the defensive line in 2010, and will use two juniors.

Defensively, the Lions are strong in the secondary with safeties Thomas and Konstant and a “cornerback by committee” that includes Conforti, Thomas, Burks and Wasz.

Konstant (83 tackles, 36 solos, fumble recovery) and Thomas (72 tackles, team-high 37 solos, 2 sacks) were LT’s No. 2-3 tacklers in 2010 behind graduated linebacker Frank DiGioia. Thomas returned a fumble 42 yards for a TD at Addison Trail.

The only other returning starters are defensive end Jefko and middle linebacker Robert Mitchell, although Simonelli (27 tackles) will see occasional time up front.

LT will be using football newcomer Elliot for placekicing, Nelson for punting and Phillips for kickoffs.

QUOTABLE: “Our No. 1 goal is to be state champion,” Weinberg said. “There are a lot of smaller benchmarks in trying to get there, a lot of very different things you’ve got to do, but that’s the ultimate goal. If you’re not pursuing that goal in high school athletics, then maybe you shouldn’t do it.”

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