BOLINGBROOK – Before last season, the Morris football program had qualified for the playoffs 12 straight years and 28 of the previous 30.
The Redskins have been to 10 state championship games, most recently in 2012.
Last fall, however, Morris had little experience returning from the latest state team. The result was a 3-6 season. That represented Redskins’ lowest victory total since 1976 and meant a heavy dose of growing pains.
If for no other reason than the heightened experience level this season, there is reason for optimism as the Redkins attempt to return to their winning ways. Of course, as members of the Northern Illinois Big 12 East and with Minooka and Metamora on the nonconference schedule, nothing will be easy.
“We have close to 15 or 16 regulars back and others who got some good time,” coach Alan Thorson said during the Bolingbrook 7-on-7 Passing League that convenes on Tuesday nights. “We’re confident we can compete in our conference with the experience level we have.”
Thorson said experience is huge at the quarterback spot, and Morris has that. Senior Griffin Sobol will be starting for a second season.
“Griffin had a learning experience last season,” Thorson said. “He got more comfortable as the season went on.”
“I feel like I could have played better last year,” Sobol said. “Now it’s senior year. I want to go all out and help us win a state championship.”
The running game will feature 1,000-yard rusher Jake Walker, with fellow senior Robbie Meucci leading the way, at least at times, from the fullback slot.
“Robbie is a senior linebacker and fullback, and he might play some tight end,” Thorson said. “He’s a very good athlete and one of our leaders on defense.”
As for Walker, he is a weapon and then some.
“We expect huge things of Jake,” Thorson said. “He’s a special athlete and a huge part of our offense.”
“Last year went pretty well for me personally, but I’m more of a team person,” Walker said. “There’s no special number of carries I want to get or anything like that. I just want to do what they ask me to do.
“The experience I got last year was the big thing. I gathered more knowledge. This offseason I have worked on my speed more. I gained a little weight and am keeping up on my agility.”
Sobol said the Redskins should offer a balanced attack.
“I think our passing game will be better because our receivers are more experienced and have more athleticism,” he said. “Walker will be a very good running back, and Robbie Meucci is good to have back there, too.
“The big thing in our running game is how strong the line is physically and mentally. T.J. Layne will be a good leader and a couple of juniors will get it done.”
“The linemen are getting bigger and stronger,” Walker said. “Our offense just has to stay on the same page.”
Staying on the same page involves avoiding turnovers.
“Our coaches can’t stand turnovers and we can’t, either,” Walker said. “They affected us quite a bit last year.”
Layne, a guard on offense and an end on defense, is a three-year starter and the only starter from the state runner-up team of two years ago.
“We’re bringing back a lot of kids on defense,” Thorson said. “Two of our three linebackers are back. T.J. Layne on the defensive line is a three-year starter. Keagan Sobol, Griffin’s brother, is a sophomore linebacker who we will have on the varsity.
“This year we are excited about our offensive and defensive lines. We have a lot of starters. They have strength. They have hit the weight room hard since last season.”
The classes filling the varsity roster have had success.
“Our juniors were conference champs as sophomores,” Thorson said. “Our seniors had some success as freshmen and sophomores. We’re spending the entire summer trying to jell as a team.
“The big key is to get out of the gates strong. Last year was tough, but I like the way the offseason has gone. The kids are motivated. I like how things are shaping up, especially if we can stay healthy.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but I like our team.”