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Lincoln-Way East head coach Rob Zvonar during their first round football playoff game against Plainfield Central in Frankfort Friday, October 26, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
With just five returning starters from a 2011 team that finished 10-1, Lincoln-Way East was somewhat of a question mark entering this season.
Of course, the Griffins’ underclassmen had great success on the lower levels — what else is new at the Frankfort school? — but a lack of experience was cause for concern.
Or maybe not.
Lincoln-Way East has exceeded all expectations this season, racking up a 13-0 mark entering Saturday’s Class 7A state championship game against Glenbard West.
Much of the credit for that goes to East coach Rob Zvonar, who put the right pieces in the right places.
Most notably, Zvonar scrapped East’s trademark double-wing formation for a spread attack. The new offense placed the spotlight on quarterback Tom Fuessel, who runs like a locomotive on rocket fuel.
From developing talent, to agreeing to the new offense, to overcoming an arduous schedule, Zvonar pushed all the right buttons, earning him recognition as the Pepsi-Cola/SouthtownStar 2012 Football Coach of the Year.
“This means a lot,” Zvonar said of the honor. “I credit this group of kids. Especially the seniors, who put the team first and created selflessness and trust in one another.”
Zvonar also credits his offensive coordinator, Joel Pallissard, the architect of the Griffins’ slick new offense.
“As much as I’d like to take the credit, he (Pallissard) took a player like Tom Fuessel and designed an offense in less than a year that fit his strengths,” said Zvonar, a driver’s education teacher.
Make no mistake, though. While Zvonar has complete trust in his coaches, he ultimately had to green-light changes in the offense. The Griffins even made subtle alterations to their four-four defense.
The variances amounted to East outscoring opponents 466-138. And it was far from a creampuff schedule. Eight of East’s nine opponents qualified for the playoffs.
Yet, only one of East’s foes — Montini, which is playing for the 5A title Saturday — has come within 10 points of the Griffins, falling 20-14 in Week 2.
Not a bad run, considering the offense boasts just three returning starters — Nick Allegretti (line), Justin Corbett (receiver) and Nick Colangelo (running back); and the defense two, linebackers Adam O’Grady and Kyle Langenderfer.
“Even the coaches are shaking their heads a little by this group of kids taking the bull by the horns,” Zvonar said. “You never expect to be this successful with our schedule and the inexperience we had. It says a lot about these kids to be able to put this thing together.”
Since East opened its doors and dressed an all-junior team to compete on the varsity back in 2001, it’s never finished below .500.
In 12 years at the helm, Zvonar is 115-26, including a Class 8A state championship in 2005.
Not even the addition of Lincoln-Way North in 2008, which thinned East’s talent pool “by at least a third,” according to Zvonar, has had an adverse affect on the Griffins. East is 50-7 since North opened.
“The talent pool was a little bigger back then,” said Zvonar, who grew up in downstate Monticello. “There’s a nice high school on Harlem Avenue now. But we’re very fortunate to have tremendous feeder programs.”
And to think, back in 1994, when Zvonar was hired at then Lincoln-Way High School, his plan was to coach one year of high school and head to the greener pastures of college. He ended up, however, staying on Lincoln-Way coach Rob Glielmi’s staff for six seasons before taking over the new Lincoln-Way East program.
The married father of three boys (twins Tyson and Trey, and Colton) is overjoyed his grand career plan never materialized.
“One (year) and done was my goal and here we are 19 years later,” said Zvonar, who played college football at Illinois Wesleyan University. “I learned so much from Rob (Glielmi) and have been blessed to work at the Lincoln-Way District. It’s an honor to coach these kids.
“I have an amazing wife (Kristin) and family. I have no complaints.”