Wilmington's football program has a lot of tradition. Like winning. In 18 years, coach Jeff Reents has won 77 percent (154-46) of his games. His 2003 team finished third in Class 3A. From 2008 to 2010, his teams won 32 of 35 games. This year's team has won seven of its last eight.
But there is another tradition that is almost as popular as winning -- dinner at the Liaromatis house on Wednesday night. Thirty players, no girls. Hot dogs, hamburgers, brats, steaks on the grill. Nothing fancy.
Just guy food. Oh, one time someone brought venison.
"It has been at our house for the last three years. When I was a sophomore, my brother Steve was senior captain. Last year, I was the starting quarterback and kept it at our house. This year, too," said Sean Liaromatis.
"There is a boatload of food, usually three times what we need for 30 guys," Chris Tworek said. "We relax and talk to each other. We make a bonfire. It's a bonding thing, a lot of fun."
Liaromatis and Tworek are two of the leaders on a Wilmington team that averaged 33 points per game, shut out five opponents in a row and allowed only 71 points in a 7-2 season.
In last Friday's 35-28 victory over Herscher, the Interstate 8 Small Division champion prevailed as Chris Tworek rushed 30 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns and Mike Wolfe rushed 23 times for 167 yards and two touchdowns.
The Wildcats will play at Byron in the first round of the Class 3A playoff.
"Of all the team's I've had, this is one of the top five, the best team since 2009 when we set a lot of offensive records," Reents said. "We run a double wing offense and are known for running. But we have good balance this year. Our quarterback averages 100 yards per game passing and we have two running backs who average 100 yards per game."
Reents believes his team can make a serious run at the Class 3A title. With 11 starters returning from last year's 7-4 squad, he has a good mix of talent and experience.
"We can make a good run at the Class 3A title," the coach said. "We have a physical mentality to run and we have a lot of good athletes. Our defense compares to the 1996 and 2002 teams that went to the state semifinals. This defense has speed and great tenacity to get to the ball. We can run and pass. But we still are able to run the ball, which is our bread and butter."
The 2012 Wildcats might not be able to run the ball as effectively and as sensationally as the 1996 team led by Damian Anderson. But Liaromatis, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior quarterback, and Tworek, a 6-foot, 190-pound senior wingback, give them plenty of punch.
Liaromatis has passed for more than 800 yards and 13 touchdowns. Tworek has rushed for more than 1,000 yards. And Mike Wolfe, a 5-foot-8, 160-pound senior wingback, has rushed for nearly 900. Tworek also is the team's leading tackler, averaging 11 per game.
Other standouts are 6-foot-2, 190-pound wide receiverstrong safety Dan O'Leary and 6-foot-3, 280-pound offensive tacklenoseman Derrick Romano.
Ironically, Liaromatis and Tworek both were born in Bolingbrook. Tworek's family moved to Wilmington when he was 3, Lairomatis when he was 4.
"There is nothing like football on a Friday night in Wilmington," Tworek said. "Everybody comes to the game, the team comes out of the woods, through the smoke and the tunnel. Then there's the fireworks. What (Reents) has built here is pretty amazing. There is nothing else like it."
Liaromatis' father, who played football at Lisle, introduced him to the game at 5. But he admits baseball is his favorite sport while wrestling is his best sport. He qualified for the state finals at 152 last season.
"But I love playing football, the atmosphere, the team aspect," Liaromatis said. "Football is a big deal in this town. I remember when I was a kid in 2003 and 2004 and went to all the games. You drive through town and nobody is in town on Friday night. Everybody is at the game. It's cool, especially when you get to play and see a bunch of people."
It is even more fun this season with more emphasis on the passing game.
"I threw 18 passes in one game this year. I'm averaging at least 10 to 15 each game. Last year, the most I threw in one game was 16. In one game, I threw only three."
Nobody was more surprised than Liaromatis when Reents informed him of his new game plan for this year.
"We practice the same stuff over and over. But I didn't know I'd be throwing this much until (Reents) started to call for more passes in the game. I like to throw the ball this year. It's a nice surprise," he said.
Liaromatis and Tworek remember last year's 7-4 finish. They lost to Winnebago in overtime in the second round of the playoff on a trick play.
"We messed up on defense. We didn't see it coming. It was disappointing. We had home field advantage and we were hyped up. I thought we had them. Our game plan was going good. But they got us," Tworek said.
Tworek started on defense last year and also started at wingback for the last five games, accounting for 500 yards. Now he is the leader of the defense while Liaromatis controls the offense.
"Last year, we weren't sure what would happen but we put it all together at the end of the season until Winnebago," Tworek said. "This year, we have put it together early better than last year. We hope to perfect it. This team can win the state title. I have seen how teams react to each other. This team works well on both sides of the ball."