Throughout the ever-changing landscape of high school football in Illinois, the Sandwich High School Indians have faced many challenges just like almost every team that has competed since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
Last spring, the Indians struggled through a delayed and abbreviated 0-4 campaign, their last two games cancelled due to the pandemic.
Now back on course with everyone else this fall, SHS will face new challenges and opportunities with COVID still lurking as a possible impediment toward regaining football normalcy.
“Dealing with the pandemic has become the new normal now, and our job as coaches is to keep our young men focused on playing football,” said Sandwich coach Kris Cassie (4th season, 8-14). “We know only one case can shut your program down, so we’re very aware that we just have to concentrate on controlling what we can control, and that’s playing football.
“We’re very excited about this season competing in a new conference.”
That new league combines the Interstate Eight with the Kishwaukee River to form a pair of eight-team groups assembled by similar enrollment. Sandwich will join with fellow I-8 competitors Plano and Rochelle along with KRC members Harvard, Johnsburg, Marengo and Richard-Burton to make up the Kishwaukee River/Interstate Eight Blue Division.
“There’s a lot of travel, but there are schools our size, which we like, and we completely respect all the teams in this new conference,” Cassie said. “These are Class 4A playoff teams year-in, year-out. Every week we’ll be tested and know we need to play our best game each time.”
To do that, the Indians will rely on a small varsity group of just 25 (13 seniors, 12 juniors) despite a healthy 62 within the program (37 junior varsity).
Nine starters return from the spring, where on offense SHS will run its traditional wing-T ground attack led by 5-10, 175-pound junior fullback Seven Tornga. He earned I-8 All-Conference First Team honors with 249 yards and four touchdowns earlier in the year as a sophomore captain.
Tornga will be a captain again this fall along with four others, forming a backfield with senior halfback Christian Sommers (captain, 6-3, 150) as well as wingbacks Cainan Haick (Sr., 6-0, 200) and Doug Taxis (Jr., 5-5, 135). At quarterback both senior Austin Sinetos (6-1, 160) and junior Evan Gottlieb (5-10, 150) will compete behind an offensive line consisting of senior center Damien Daniels (5-7, 170), junior guards Bryce Decker (5-10, 185) and Dan Reedy (captain, 5-11, 215), and senior tackles Kaiden Gustafson (captain, 6-0, 200) and Casey Olson (6-5, 250).
Tight ends figure to be senior Johnny Rizzuto (captain, 6-2, 160) and junior Owen Sheley (6-5, 190), who will help block for Tornga as the Indians most potent threat.
“I feel like when I get the ball I can break first contact, and I always strive for at least six yards a carry,” Tornga said. “At fullback you’ve got to run as hard as you can and keep the legs and feet pumping.”
Defensively, the Indians will go with a 4-2-5 alignment that will see many two-way competitors from the offensive side.
On the line, Reedy along with bulky senior transfer Theo Arnold (6-5, 285) will man the tackle spots along with senior Connor Holly (5-9, 215), while Decker and Sheley should patrol the ends. Tornga and Gustafson will be the keys at run control playing at the inside linebacker positions, with Haick and senior Joey Rizzuto (6-0, 160) on the outside.
Sommers, Johnny Rizzuto and Taxis will compete at cornerback, while junior Dylan Young (6-2, 160) will be crucial at safety. Senior Alex Alfaro (6-1, 195) will handle the kicking duties along with playing on the school’s soccer team.
“On defense I think we have some great chemistry, and I believe we can do some very special things this year,” Gustafson said. “I know we don’t have many numbers on our varsity team this year, but I really believe in this group.”
Sandwich will be looking to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and will open up at home versus Ottawa on Friday, Aug. 27, on its home turf at 7 p.m.
Source: The Daily Chronicle