The scent of sweat may still hang in the Sacred Heart-Griffin High School jerseys, but it’s never too early to look ahead to what the future holds for the Class 5A state football champions.
Though the Cyclones will graduate many of the catalysts for this year’s title team, junior quarterback Gabe Green turned to junior running back Anthony DiNello in the closing minutes of SHG’s 38-28 victory over Lombard Montini on Saturday afternoon to say “repeat.”
Immediately after the presentation of the trophy — which got broken just moments later (the third trophy that weekend to suffer that fate) — several SHG players started hollering about “back to work Monday.”
Whether SHG can repeat as state champion is up for debate. Gone will be wide receivers Malik Turner, Nate Lowis and Nolan Aherin; placekicker Kenny Rowe and a host of players such as Keegan Hamilton, Cameron Murphy, Kodie Olshefsky, Chris Overton, Austin Pranger, Cody Rutherford, Chris Smith, Conner Timoney and Grant Wallace.
It’s safe to say their replacements may already be picked out for 2014. The loss of Turner is an obvious choice to ask, “How will they replace him?” (The early answers could include returning receivers Dylan Londrigan, Sam Bonansinga, Avery Andrews and Albert Okwuegbunam.)
But as long as the Cyclones have Green at quarterback, they will remain one of the early favorites to be playing in the 5A title game in 2014.
Though some thought Green wasn’t ready to be the first sophomore starter for the Cyclones in coach Ken Leonard’s era, all he did was show he was one of the area’s best quarterbacks.
As a sophomore, Green’s 1,853 passing yards ranked second in the Central State Eight Conference, as did his 68-percent completion rate. Green also ran for 888 yards on 138 carries, scoring 15 touchdowns .
His growth from sophomore to junior year was impressive, amassing 3,236 yards passing this season while completing 194 of 273 attempts (71 percent) with 39 touchdowns.
He also ran for 755 yards and 14 touchdowns on 131 carries this year, including 26 carries for 145 yards and three touchdowns in the title game. The IHSA doesn’t hand out “player of the game” awards, but if it did, Green would’ve been the front-runner.
And now the speculation begins.
Green’s ascent has been nothing short of spectacular. He worked with former NFL quarterback Jeff Christensen in the offseason at Christensen’s Lockport quarterback and receivers academy called “Throw It Deep.”
Green knows there is still much more work to do, and not having Turner to catch 69 passes for 1,378 and 22 touchdowns will put more of the offensive burden on Green’s shoulders — and legs — next season.
“I’d rather have two rings than one, so I’ll work even harder the next year to get a second one,” Green said.
With Green, running back Sam Sergent, linebacker Cody Bowman, defensive back Dalton Manci and a core of the offensive line in Doug Maroon, Nick Martin, Michael Zeigler and Quinn Oseland returning, something tells me to not bet against the Cyclones getting back to the big game next November in Champaign.
And neither should you.