Scouting the Kaneland Knights
Simply making the playoffs will not satisfy the Kaneland football team this season.
With several skill-position players and linemen returning from a 7-4 team that was knocked of the Class 6A playoffs in the second round by eventual state champion Cary-Grove, the Knights are thinking bigger.
"Making the playoffs is not the goal. That's an expectation," said third-year coach Pat Ryan, whose first two squads reached the second round. "Making a serious push and making a state-title run is a serious goal for us. We've talked with the players about not being a second-round exit team. It would be a great accomplishment for us to make a quarterfinal or semifinal or maybe go all the way."
An offense that averaged 28 points per game in 2018 returns 60% passer Joe Smith. The 6-foot-3, 170-pound senior last season threw for 1,684 yards and 16 touchdowns on 111-of-195 passing.
Smith's top two targets in the spread offense also return: senior receivers Colton Doll (6-1, 160) and Max Gagne (6-0, 170). Last season Doll made 31 catches and led the team with 577 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. Gagne grabbed a team-best 36 receptions for 532 yards and 5 scores.
Smith is protected by an offensive line that returns three full-time starters: junior right guard Sam Pryor (6-1, 285), senior center Alex Slou (5-11, 260) and junior right tackle John Davis (6-3, 310). Pryor, who enters his third varsity season, was a unanimously named a team captain by his peers. Also returning to the line is junior left guard Miles Ripper (6-0, 250). He started at center in Week 9 and two playoff games.
The starting running back is tough-to-tackle Wilson Giffney (6-0, 205). He mainly played linebacker as a junior. Another addition is 6-4, 210-pound tight end Ian Diehl (6-4, 205), a newcomer to football who has taken to the game quickly, according to his coach.
It is a collection of talent that will cause opposing defensive coordinators to lose sleep.
"We certainly can be dangerous this year," Ryan said. "At times we look extremely fast and our passing game looks really good. As long as we can protect the passer, good things should happen with our offense.
Four starters return to a 3-3 stack defense that held opponents to 20.1 points per game. Pryor anchors the line, Giffney returns at middle linebacker, Trevor Carlson is back at outside linebacker and Jimmy Marczuk again plays safety.
Outside linebacker Cody Krawczyk is a team captain who started the playoff game against Cary-Grove.
Ryan said this defense is faster and much more athletic overall than a year ago. That will be put to the test by a schedule that includes Hinsdale South and Geneva and Interstate Eight Conference opponents Sycamore, Sandwich, Rochelle, Plano, Ottawa, Morris and LaSalle-Peru.