MINOOKA – Coming off of three straight winning seasons and playoff berths to end the Bert Kooi tenure at Minooka, the hope was that the team guided by new coach Paul Forsythe would continue the Indians’ football success.
However, after narrowly missing out on the playoffs in 2012 with tough late-season losses of eight points or fewer to Plainfield South and North and a rough 3-6 season in 2013, Forsythe’s Indians are still yet to have their first postseason experience.
Now, with another hotly contested season opener with rival Morris looming, Forsythe is optimistic the 2014 team has the right attitude to turn this program around.
“These kids have bought in, and they’re all in with what we want to do,” Forsythe said. “That’s huge in whatever it is you’re selling. Now it just comes down to those kids making some plays on the field, but they’ve done everything we’ve asked. They’ve gone above and beyond in the summer, and we’ve got some pretty positive vibes right now.”
Contributing to those positive vibes are six returning starters on both sides of the ball, headlined by Division-I caliber running back Nate Gunn and the leading tackler from 2013, Jeff Klank.
Gunn’s return along with the return of Victor Turpin (268 rushing yards and a touchdown in 2013) should make Minooka’s rushing attack formidable.
Gunn will be a candidate for MDH Area Player of the Year in 2014 if he can improve on his already-impressive numbers from last season (860 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns).
“This is my third season on varsity, and I couldn’t be more excited than I am with the players that I’m with right now,” Gunn said. “I’ve seen kids come through for the past two years, but this is by far the best team I’ve been a part of attitude-wise.
“We’re a smaller team, but these guys are feisty and they want to win.”
The challenge for Minooka offensively essentially will be retooling the entire passing attack after the unit was gutted by the graduation of quarterback Jake Czerniakowski and the three leading receivers.
Sophomore Johnny Carnagio has cemented himself as the opening-night starter for Forsythe, who calls the plays, and despite the youth movement, the Minooka coach is excited about his passing game’s future.
“He is a sophomore, but he’s the best option in our program and he’s proven that he’s ready for this and that he wants this,” Forsythe said of his young signal-caller.
Defensively, coordinator Chris Ferko is back with the program and he’s got several critical contributors back along with Klank, including defensive tackle Brad Daniels and linebacker Luke Brozovich.
“Our defense is still a work in progress, but I do feel better about where we are defensively and what we have going for us because we’ve got [Ferko] who is doing a magical job,” Forsythe said. “The kids buy in completely to what Chris Ferko is selling, and while we may not be where we’d like right now, we’ll be there.”
Forsythe said the strength of Ferko’s unit will be the linebacking corps with Klank leading an experienced group.
All told, Minooka has talent. If new contributors like Carnagio can acclimate themselves to the speed of varsity football quickly, given the early challenges of Morris and Providence Catholic to start the season, the Indians will have a shot to compete in the Southwest Prairie Conference and ultimately get back into the postseason.