Nearly half of Coal City's 1,686 rushing yards this season have been produced by senior tailback Ryland Tondini, who has 111 carries for 778 yards with 11 touchdowns.
In an offense centered around since-graduated quarterback Cody Onsen, Tondini was just another piece in the Coalers' offense last season. His emergence in 2012 is one reason the Coalers are 9-1 heading into Saturday's Class 4A playoff game at Geneseo.
Between last week's 27-20 defeat of Peotone in the first round of the playoffs and the Geneseo game, Tondini shared his thoughts with the Morris Daily Herald.
Q. You rushed 56 times for 249 yards last season. Did you see your emergence as the feature back coming before this season started?
A. I didn't expect to come in as a starting running back, but the hard work and dedication I have put in over the past year and to this point, I am very happy with my accomplishments so far. Of course, my accomplishments also depend on the rest of our offensive line.
Q. In a game where you didn't have your biggest rushing totals, your kick return was key against Peotone Friday. What happened on that play?
A. Our defense allowed for me to clear the blocks, and the end of the play resulted in a Peotone player receiving a personal foul, which I won't repeat exactly what was said by that player, but the foul was warranted.
Q. Against Westmont, you had 11 carries for 212 yards and three touchdowns. What went right that night?
A. It was just one of those perfect combinations of offensive line doing their jobs at all positions and me looking ahead and seeing and/or creating those openings for me to get through.
Q. What is your favorite thing about the way coach (Jim) Mikula calls offense?
A. He likes to keep it as simple as possible with formations, which really has paid off for us. Sometimes the best forms of offense (are) the less complicated ones.
Q. In what way did your uncle (1998 CCHS graduate Shane Murphy) inspire you at the beginning of your football career?
A. I loved watching him play as a kid, and even though I lived in Morris at the time, I always knew I wanted to play for the Coal City Coalers. I guess you could say he is the cornerstone of why I wanted to play football.
Q. The graduation of Cody Onsen changed your team's entire offensive approach. How have the Coalers come right back and gone 9-1 so far?
A. Every year we lose some good players due to graduation, but we also gain good players as well. The dynamic of the team will always be ever-changing season to season, but we are fortunate to have some great natural talent and a coaching staff that works with us to get us up to that next level.
Q. What did your team learn from the Sandwich game, and what has been different since?
A. Our focus. I think we were reminded at that game that we need to keep our determination and our focus front and center. Never give up, and play 120 percent until the game is over.
Q. Was it almost a good thing to have a close game in the first round of the playoffs, since your three games before that weren't close?
A. It reminded me of the Sandwich game. But in particular, the Peotone game really showed me that conference place doesn't matter; heart plays a huge factor as well. Peotone showed up to play and win, and in the end it was a close game. I think it was good preparation for our next game this Saturday against Geneseo.
Q. Every team you've played so far is in the Interstate Eight, be it the Large or the Small. Is it different preparing for a team from another conference?
A. It is different because we don't really know what to expect since we do not play them on a regular basis, but that also adds to the excitement in preparing for this game. No matter who we play, we always prepare and go into every game 100 percent. We are working towards the end result, the championship, and we know we have to play to the best of our ability, no matter who we compete against.
Q. Why can this team end Coal City's recent trend of losing in the second round of the playoffs?
A. We focus on one game at a time. After this Saturday, then we will prepare for the next. As long as we continue to put in the hard work and dedication that we have produced all season, I am confident that the championship game is in our future.