Kevin Sandoval exudes positive energy.
When McHenry was struggling against Cary-Grove in a 41-2 loss last week, Sandoval was still bringing it, registering one sack, five tackles for loss, forcing a fumble (which C-G recovered) and getting the Warriors’ only points with a safety.
“My goal every night is to bring out the energy for my defense,” said Sandoval, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound defensive end. “I always want to be there for my guys. I don’t get on anybody; that just brings bad energy. I’m a hype man on the defense.”
Sandoval is one of the most disruptive forces in the area, with six sacks and 12 tackles for loss as the Warriors (3-3, 3-3) host Crystal Lake South (3-3, 3-3) at 7 p.m. Friday in their Fox Valley Conference game at McCracken Field.
The Warriors’ defense is a big reason they are battling to make the playoffs for only the second time this decade, and Sandoval is a focal point.
“He brings energy,” linebacker Paul Zunkel said. “He’s always out there to have fun. It’s his senior year, he wants to go out with a bang. He’s really good at getting to the quarterback. He’s an all-around good athlete and a great [defensive end].”
McHenry hopes to find a way to slow down the Gators’ passing attack, directed by sophomore quarterback Justin Kowalak, who leads the area with 1,052 passing yards.
Sandoval could be vital to doing that.
“Any time you have a guy who can put pressure on the quarterback, that is super beneficial,” Warriors coach Jon Niemic said. “I’m not trying to compare him to the NFL, but NFL teams put a premium on what? Protecting the quarterback and putting pressure on the quarterback.
“A guy who can play defensive end and put pressure on the quarterback is huge. Kevin does a really, really good job of that. He never quits. He never stops. He always finishes plays.”
Sandoval was promoted to the varsity team midway through his sophomore season and has been a fixture since. He recently received an offer from NAIA St. Xavier and has interest from several other NCAA Division III and NAIA schools. DI Valparaiso, which plays in the Pioneer Football League, an FCS conference that does not award football scholarships, also is interested.
Zunkel said the Warriors know they can always count on Sandoval, who has 35 tackles and two forced fumbles.
“For me, it’s a trust thing,” Zunkel said. “I know Kevin’s going to do his job and show up every play, show up every practice. He’s going to give it his all. It’s really beneficial to the defense because when you’re our there, he’s going to be that leader. He’s going to get that [defensive] line hyped up and get everyone ready to go.”
Sandoval wants nothing more than to make a little history with his buddies.
“Our team is all hoping for the playoffs,” he said. “That’s our mentality. We’re attempting to get these last three wins, get ourselves into the playoffs and get our name on the board we have at our field. It would mean the absolute world for all of us, because it hasn’t been done since 2016. Niemic was [a coach] on that team, and he’s been helping us get to that point. It would mean everything to me.”