Scouting the Larkin Royals
The Larkin football program has had enough of almost.
For example, the Royals almost qualified for playoff consideration each of the past two seasons only to finish 4-5.
First-year coach Zeus Gonzalez says the players on the 40-man Larkin varsity are determined to cap a five-year rebuild by reaching the state playoffs for the first time since the 2006 season.
"We've been so close to getting over that playoff hump the last two years," said Gonzalez, a Larkin assistant coach the last four years. "We have to continue with this senior group. Our motto for this year is 'embrace the challenge.' Are we ready to take that next step forward? Are we ready to take the next step? We want this senior class to leave a legacy for the younger kids and continue building the program from the bottom up."
Initially, Larkin will hang its hat on a veteran defense led by returning all-Upstate Eight cornerback Jahari Stubbs. He intercepted 5 passes as a junior. Stubbs' coach calls him "a great kid who does everything right. He's a hard worker and he wants to be the best."
Stubbs is supported in the secondary by senior Malik Walkine, senior Kaydon Donald and junior Kione Williams. Each saw playing time last year.
Starting linebacker Adan Nabor returns along with junior Deujuan "DJ" Hankins, who started a few games last season. They are joined by newcomer Angel Garcia and veteran Diego Facio, the latter of whom joins the offensive line this year.
Multisport athlete Isai Rios anchors the defensive front. A wrestler who competed at 220 pounds last winter, Rios can dead lift 500 pounds.
The Larkin offense should get a significant boost from the Aubry family. Jason Aubry resigned as head coach at Joliet West last fall after eight seasons, a stint capped by consecutive playoff appearances. He is Larkin's new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. His son, Jaxon, is Larkin's new quarterback. Jaxon was Joliet West's starting quarterback the last three seasons.
Gonzalez said he met Jason Aubry last fall at a physical education conference at Naperville North. They were introduced by former Larkin coach Dragan Teonic. The three talked football all day.
When Gonzalez was promoted to head coach in July, he contacted Jason Aubry the next day and offered him a coaching position soon thereafter.
Jaxon arrived in time for the last week of Larkin summer camp and has since gotten to know his new teammates while practicing the spread offense.
"Jaxon is a smart kid with very good football knowledge," Gonzalez said. "He's been a real big help so far. His transition with the kids has been smooth. The kids have really taken to him and they have just meshed well."
Stubbs is one of Aubry's top receiving targets, as is Walkine, described by his coach as "long and lean with good feet and soft hands." Offensive line anchors Rios and Facio will try to give Aubry the time necessary to find his receivers.
Does Larkin have enough to win 5 games in a revamped Upstate Eight Conference and shed the "almost" label by reaching the postseason?
"With our senior group, as long as we go in and take care of our business, I think will be able to be in the upper half of our conference," Gonzalez said. "But we have to do our job. We have to play our style and do what we're supposed to do."