McHenry's Kevin Sandoval works through a defensive drill during practice July 12 in McHenry. The senior moved from linebacker to defensive end last season and is receiving interest from colleges at the Division II, Division III and NAIA levels.
McHenry's Kevin Sandoval works through a defensive drill during practice July 12 in McHenry. The senior moved from linebacker to defensive end last season and is receiving interest from colleges at the Division II, Division III and NAIA levels. — Matthew Apgar - mapgar@shawmedia.com

McHENRY – Between the end of football season and the start of lacrosse in the spring, McHenry’s Kevin Sandoval gained an extra 30 pounds working out in the weight room. Currently at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Sandoval has room for more gains, too.

“He has the frame to get up to 240,” McHenry coach Jon Niemic said. “He’s got the frame and he’s got a motor that goes with it. We’re expecting big things with Kevin.”

That’s something college coaches like, too. Niemic said various coaches at the Division II, Division III and NAIA levels have contacted him about Sandoval.

Sandoval will play a key part in McHenry’s defense this season, and likely will earn some snaps at tight end on offense. The rising senior moved from linebacker to defensive end last season, his first on varsity. With a year of experience under his belt, he feels a lot more comfortable at defensive end.

“I’ve been learning a lot more,” Sandoval said. “I have a lot more tools on my belt that I can use on the field.”

Niemic said Sandoval was “raw” a year ago when he made the position switch. Sandoval’s understanding of the position, the X’s and O’s of when to pass rush and when to expect the run, has improved dramatically.

“We had to break him down a lot with some of his technique,” Niemic said. “Once he understood what he was doing, now he’s able to do that at a fast pace.

“He just wanted to get after the quarterback and sometimes that’s not [a good thing]. You get too far up field and you’re creating gaps. Him understanding big-picture stuff was a big thing.”

As far as quarterback Chris Zieba is concerned, Sandoval is “a monster.”

“He’s a tank,” Zieba said. “I’m not a lineman, so I don’t go against him, but I’ve heard that he’s just tearing it up.”

McHenry surrendered 35.9 points per game on its way to a 2-7 season last year. The Warriors hope to improve that number, and with it their win total. Just three years ago, the Warriors improved from 1-8 in 2015, to 6-4 in 2016 with a Class 7A playoff appearance.

Directing traffic from the middle linebacker position will be junior Paul Zunkel, who started last year as a sophomore. In Niemic’s words, Zunkel is a “gym rat,” but he’s also “a film dude.”

Maybe it’s not a surprise that a coach’s son has an aptitude for studying game film. Zunkel’s father Nat Zunkel coached the Warriors for two seasons and coached Mercer County to a Class 2A state championship in 2012.

“He always surprises me with all that,” Sandoval said of Paul Zunkel. “I’m very impressed with how he does that. You don’t see many juniors, even last year as a sophomore, you don’t see many players that are that young just stuck on film and wanting to learn more.”

Niemic said Zunkel and Zach Babincsak, a lineman who started as a sophomore last year, are already seniors in his eyes. Zunkel is coming off a dislocated kneecap he suffered during wrestling season. He just recently returned to football practice.

“[I’m] way more comfortable,” Zunkel said. “I know the pace I need to play. I realize the mistakes I make. The game is a faster pace and we have to bring that to practice.”