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Kevin Nowak (26) of Naperville Central just misses blocking an extra point kick by Tyler Cook (5) of Wheaton Warrenville South. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Surrendering an average of 12.9 points a game last year, Naperville Central’s defense proved pivotal in its run to the Class 8A state semifinals for the first time in 10 years.
It’s the lessons learned as a junior in the Redhawks’ defensive backfield that has been helping senior Kevin Nowak lead the Redhawks’ defense as Naperville Central fights for its postseason life, sitting at 3-4 overall and in must-win mode starting Friday against Naperville North.
Recording 48 tackles and an interception as a junior, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Nowak has taken on more responsibility as a senior.
Through seven games, Nowak has recorded 65 tackles and two interceptions.
“Obviously, it helps that I was moved to safety. I’m in a lot more plays,” Nowak said. “I can get the whole half of the field. I can make plays. But, yeah, I mean, I was expecting to make a lot of plays last year. I mean, I knew I was coming in, had a lot of confidence. So I just kind of trust myself to be in the right place at the right time. That’s been a major key in everything, I guess.”
With the defense needing to replace the likes of Zach Borta, John Dulleck, Matt Moore and Ross Murphy, the Redhawks’ defense rebounded from the team’s 0-2 start to help the team win its next three games by allowing a combined 27 points.
But with the team being shut out in each of the last two weeks, including last Friday’s 45-0 loss to No. 6 Wheaton North, pressure and responsibility has shifted toward the defense.
“Kevin brings a great leadership to our defense. I think that’s the biggest thing. He’s a calming effect out there,” Naperville Central coach Mike Stine said. “The kids have confidence (in him). He’s played back there. Again, he’s not afraid of the big stage.
“He’s not afraid to try and make a play and he’s our defensive leader. I mean, we’ve got two or three guys I could easily say are defensive leaders and Kevin is one of those guys. Usually when he plays well, our defense plays well.”