To call Griffin Gawenda a role player would be inaccurate, and selling him short, since role players are typically minor contributors.
And yet, it is certainly true that Gawenda plays his role very well. He knows it and accepts it, without hesitation.
Gawenda is a major contributor for Grayslake North, a dangerous running back and a key part of the offense. He scored 2 touchdowns on Friday and ran for 175 yards in leading the Knights to a 42-28 Class 6A first-round playoff victory over archrival Lakes.
Grayslake North (8-2) will face No. 3 Cary-Grove (9-1) next weekend in the second round.
A track star with blazing speed, and moves that make many defenders look silly, Gawenda would be the primary running back for many teams in Lake County. But when his teammate Dami Oladunmoye is healthy, Gawenda knows he's the Knights' second option.
"Griff has accepted his role so well," Grayslake North coach Steve Wood said. "He is the ultimate teammate. If there was an award for that, he'd get it hands down. He's never complained about how he's used.
"I mean, here's a kid who should be in our office saying, 'Give me the ball! I've done nothing but perform for you.' But every time Dami comes back (from an injury), you slide me back (to the second option).' But he hasn't even begun a conversation like that. He's accepted it from the get-go, and when he's been given his opportunity, he's been amazing for us."
Oladunmoye will go down as one of the best running backs in Grayslake North history, and one of the best Lake County has ever seen. He was the leading rusher in the area last year and rolled up 213 yards against Lakes. But injuries have been an unfortunate reality in his career.
Last year, Oladunmoye was injured during the playoffs and that's when Gawenda got his first real taste of varsity football. He performed brilliantly in filling in for Oladunmoye.
When Oladunmoye missed games early this season with an off-season ankle injury, Gawenda filled in again, and put up Oladunmoye type numbers game after game.
When Oladunmoye got dinged up and missed some plays towards the end of the Lakes game, it was Gawenda who again took over in the backfield. He nearly scored a third touchdown in spectacular fashion that would have put the game away late in the fourth quarter. Gawenda broke away and sprinted nearly 80 yards for a touchdown. But he was caught at the 1-yard line by determined Lakes speedster Cameron Ruiz, and instead got credit for only a 79-yard gain.
But the Knights scored on the next play anyway to put the game away, 42-28.
"I knew that I could do this after last year and the playoff games where I subbed in for (Oladunmoye)," Gawenda said. "But it is always nice to know that I am able to step up and help the team.
"Before that, I didn't play much. I'd go in for a play or two if Dami was tired, then I'd go out. Playing in the playoffs last year gave me some confidence."
Grayslake North rolled up 554 yards of offense, including 171 passing yards from Austin Martineau. He completed 8-of-15 passes for 2 touchdowns. His favorite target was Elliott Hochstein, who caught 4 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.
Lakes and Grayslake North kept pace with each other for much of the first half, taking a 14-14 tie into the second quarter. Grayslake North went up 21-14 by halftime and built a 2 touchdown lead (28-14) with the only score of the third quarter.
But Lakes cut its deficit to a single touchdown twice in the fourth quarter, the last time being on a 54-yard touchdown run with 4:36 remaining by sophomore D'Lo Hardy. Hardy had 2 touchdowns and 88 yards on 7 carries.
Grayslake North answered again, though. Its last touchdown came after Gawenda's 79-yard run, a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Peter Stanfel.
"I thought we battled to the end," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. "I was proud of that. At the end of the day, we just didn't make enough plays."
Ruiz, Lakes' Northwestern-bound running back, made plenty of plays. He rushed for 69 yards on 11 carries, and made big stops on defense, including the chase-down of Gawenda. All on a bad hip that has slowed him all season.
"It's kind of surreal right now. I just can't believe it's over. It hasn't hit me yet," Ruiz said. "But we just didn't execute when we needed to execute. I'm proud of the way we responded though when we were down."
Lakes quarterback Brandon Khan completed 18-of-33 passes for 197 yards. His favorite target was Ryan Selig, who caught 8 passes for 132 yards and 2 touchdowns.