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Lincoln-Way East qb Tom Fuessel trys to cut between Homewood-Flossmoor's Damon Davies and LeAndrew McGuire. | John Patsch~For Sun-Times Media
Tom Fuessel didn’t enjoy sitting on the bench last season.
Players, especially competitive ones, rarely do.
The experience, however, wasn’t void of value, according to Fuessel.
In fact, the Mokena resident isn’t certain he and his Lincoln-Way East teammates would be enjoying the success they have this season without it.
“Being around a talented team like that, there were some great role models who helped us prepare for this year,” said Fuessel of last year’s Griffins team that finished 10-1. “Not just on the field but off it. That was a great team; very talented. Being the scout team quarterback, I was able to practice against the starting defense. That definitely helped us out for this year.”
And what a year it’s been for Fuessel and the Griffins, who take on Glenbard West Saturday in the Class 7A state championship game at 4 p.m. in Champaign.
The Griffins, with just five returning starters, entered the season as an untested commodity.
Virtual unknowns, almost.
That includes Fuessel, who scraped together some garbage time backing up Blake Winkler, the 2011 SouthtownStar Player of the Year.
The anonymity didn’t last very long for East and Fuessel.
The Griffins are a perfect 13-0 and Fuessel is leading the charge.
The senior has rushed for 1,502 yards and 21 touchdowns and passed for 1,070 yards and eight scores.
The numbers, however, don’t tell the entire story, according to East coach Rob Zvonar.
“He’s done some things that just make your jaw drop,” Zvonar said. “You just can’t believe it. How he makes something out of nothing. How eludes defenders. He’s done things I’ve never seen done before. I’m just glad he’s on our side.”
Fuessel’s success has steered some criticism Zvonar’s way.
Like, how in the world didn’t Zvonar find a spot on the field for Fuessel last season? If not at quarterback, than at another position.
“Oh, I’ve heard it,” Zvonar said. “In hindsight, we should have taken a longer look at playing him at another position. But we had a very good quarterback, very good wide receivers. Our defensive backs were good.
“What people don’t realize is that Tom wasn’t as strong as he is now. He was 150 pounds last year. Plus, he wanted to be a quarterback. He’s improved his passing. He has a nice arm. And he’s gotten stronger.”
Now 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, Fuessel is difficult to bring down. Combine that with his blazing speed — 4.32 in the 40-yard dash — and remarkable elusiveness and what you have is a rare asset.
One who’s left more than one defender shaking his head during games.
“The one I remember most is the Bolingbrook game,” recalled Fuessel, who would much prefer to talk about his teammates instead of himself. “It was in the middle of the play and I got stuffed but they didn’t wrap up and I got away. I heard one of their players, while I was running, say, ‘What the heck is going on?’”
Fuessel has another gear few people possess.
So what’s it like to have that type of speed in the open field?
“You put your head up and you just run for your life,” he said, chuckling. “You see daylight and you here the crowd getting loud, and you say to yourself, ‘don’t get caught.’
One win now stands in the way of Lincoln-Way East earning the second state championship in the program’s 12-year history. The first occurred in 2005.
Fuessel has immense respect for Glenbard West, which eliminated the Griffins from the 2010 playoffs.
But the Northern Illinois recruit can’t imagine his team’s season-long goal not being realized.
“We’ve made it to state and that’s great,” he said. “But the state championship is everything we’ve worked for. There’s no other choice.”