Behind a strong senior class and several talented juniors, the LaSalle-Peru football team ended a decade long playoff drought last fall.
The Cavaliers went 5-4 in the regular season — with a five-game winning streak from Weeks 2-6 — before facing eventual Class 5A state champion Rochester in the first round of the playoffs.
L-P trailed just 28-20 at halftime before losing 68-26.
Entering the 2020 season, the Cavs hope last year was a foundation to build on rather than a flash in the pan.
“When you make it once, you want to try to push the players to achieve that again,” L-P coach Jose Medina said. “That has been the motivation this offseason. Last year’s team with a great group of seniors left a legacy for us to follow. That’s what we’ve been preaching — What type of legacy do you want to leave?
“With all that’s going on right now, it kind of dampered it a little bit, but we’re going to push through it and figure out the best way to make this football season another with a playoff-type atmosphere.”
Head coach: Jose Medina (seventh season)
Last year’s record: 5-5
Last season, the Cavs relied on dominant lines on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, the line paved the way for an offense that averaged 221.5 rushing yards per game and racked up more than 300 yards rushing on three occasions.
Defensively, L-P’s three down linemen created havoc in opposing backfields and helped L-P limit opponents to 17.1 points per game in the regular season and 22.2 for the season after Rochester put up 68.
The Cavs have major holes to fill on both lines with only two starters back on offense — Carson Mrowicki at guard and Eric Lane at center — and the entire defensive line lost to graduation.
“Those are going to be some holes we have to fill,” Medina said. “We do feel we have some kids who can step in there. We haven’t put any pads on and haven’t been able to get out there and do anything yet. We’ll have to wait and see. We have to evaluate and see where we can put players to help us be successful.”
Players to Watch
While the Cavs suffered heavy losses on the lines, they bring back plenty of talent at the offensive skill positions.
Senior quarterback Tyler Hartman returns after throwing for 396 yards and eight touchdowns and running for 550 yards and seven scores.
Also back are the team’s top rusher in senior Carlos Larios (674 yards, 4 TDs) and top receiver in senior Drake Weber (203 yards, 4 TDs), who missed the last four games of last season due to an injury, along with juniors Tre’von Hunter and Julius Sanchez.
“The backfield looks pretty solid for us,” Medina said.
Defensively, the Cavs return Dominic Kelm (defensive back), Sean Whitfield (free safety), Levi Reed (outside linebacker) and Logan Jones (defensive back).
Newcomers You Need to Know
Andrew DeMaso and Reed Robeza are two players who Medina expects can help fill holes on the offensive line.
“Those are two guys I feel can step up,” Medina said. “We have some decent young guys in the junior class who I think once they get back into shape, we’ll see where everybody falls and we’ll find somebody in that group to help out offensively.”
2020 Schedule Analysis
L-P’s schedule is the same as in 2019 but at opposite sites.
The Cavs seem to have four very winnable games in Limestone (2-7 in 2019), Sandwich (4-5), Plano (2-7) and Ottawa (1-8). L-P beat those four teams by a combined 164-29 last season.
L-P ends the season with three very tough games against Morris (7-3), Sycamore (10-2) and Kaneland (8-3). Those three teams beat the Cavs by a combined score of 89-0 last fall.
The two swing games that could determine the Cavs’ playoff chances are the opener at Morton (7-3 last year) and Week 4 at home against Rochelle (4-5).
Last season, L-P lost to Morton, 14-7, and beat Rochelle, 11-0.
If the Cavs can find enough help on the lines, they have more than enough skill position talent and winnable games to qualify for the playoffs for the second year in a row — something L-P hasn’t done since 2003-04.