There was a common denominator when Lisle made the playoffs seven seasons between 2001-08.
"The kids that came up, they felt like they had to play for the seniors," Lions coach Dan Sanko said. "They played hard."
Bolstered by a strong junior class including three up on varsity last year as sophomores -- Cliff Krause, Kevin Coppin and Griffin Huba -- Sanko thinks he's got that again. He sees a bunch of competitors, to the point where scuffles have erupted in practice.
"That's actually a good thing," Sanko said.
Despite the Interstate Eight's Small-Large duality, in which only Lisle and Small Division champion Wilmington earned wins over Large foes in 2011, Sanko was discouraged by lopsided losses. He doesn't see that happening this year.
"With this group if we get beat I'm going to guess we're going to compete in most games," he said.
He's not courting losses, of course, and has a good group of skill-position players: Dawon Burrell and Ryan Van Volkenburg at receiver, Krause, Coppin, Huba, Bailey Welch and returning senior Adam Grego running the ball out of the flex bone.
Key to a positive campaign is three-year starting quarterback Nick Saul. The 6-foot-5 senior looks to better last year's statistics: 91-of-188 passing for 1,238 yards, 9 touchdowns, 13 interceptions.
Numbers are up but as usual many Lions will turn right around and play defense. Sanko said the quality is solid just not deep, so avoiding injuries is crucial. Van Volkenburg, a cornerback, led the team with 3 interceptions and ranked sixth on last year's squad in tackles with 35, one more than linebacker Coppin.
The job of Sanko and top varsity assistants John Davis and Ron Jaegle is to hone a cohesive corps of offensive and defensive linemen, senior Tyler Schech and junior Kyle Dwyer among them.
Should be a competitive situation, just what Sanko seeks.
"Our goal is to compete in every game -- and literally compete," he said.
-- Dave Oberhelman
Coach: Dan Sanko (16th year, 71-75).
2011 record: 3-6, 2-3, fourth in the Interstate Eight Conference Small Division.
Top players: Dawon Burrell (WR-CB, 6-2, 190, Sr.), Kevin Coppin (RB-LB, 5-9, 175, Jr.), Griffin Huba (RB-LB, 6-0, 185, Jr.), Cliff Krause (RB-S, 5-8, 175, Jr.), Nick Saul (QB, 6-5, 185, Sr.), Bailey Welch (RB-LB, 5-5, 150, Jr.), Ryan Van Volkenburg (WR-CB, 6-0, 170, Sr.).
Fri, 8/24, Lisle at Manteno, 7:15 p.m.
Fri, 8/31, Herscher at Lisle (Benedictine), 7:15 p.m.
Fri, 9/7, Seneca at Lisle (Benedictine), 7;15 p.m.
Fri, 9/14, Lisle at Reed-Custer, 7:15 p.m.
Fri, 9/21, Lisle at Dwight, 7:15 p.m.
Fri, 9/28, Wilmington at Lisle (Benedictine), 7:15 p.m.
Fri, 10/5, Lisle at Westmont, 7:15 p.m.
Fri, 10/12, Lisle at Peotone, 7:15 p.m.
Fri, 10/19, Sandwich at Lisle (Benedictine), 7:15 p.m.