Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Cole Kmet

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Cole Kmet

St. Viator senior tight end Cole Kmet is a four-star recruit who plans to commit to Notre Dame in February.

But growing up, Kmet also played baseball, which happened to be his best sport as coaches were eyeing his abilities.

Kmet was faced with the difficult decision of having to pick one or the other as a career, and ultimately chose football.

See why he was named this week's Wintrust Athlete of the Week in the video above.

Halftime speeches propel resilient Griffins to come-from-behind victory

Halftime speeches propel resilient Griffins to come-from-behind victory

For 24 minutes in Bolingbrook last Friday night, the Lincoln-Way East Griffins were lost.

A week after suffering a home loss to No. 3 Homewood Flossmoor – a game in which they led 14-0 in the first quarter – Rob Zvonar’s group was reeling in what was expected to be another litmus test for one of the top-ranked teams in Illinois. In front of the Griffins was a second chance to prove against a ranked opponent that they belonged in the top tier, and for quarterbacks they looked anything but.

An offense with two poised quarterbacks and myriad talent at the skill positions had come to a screeching halt after a touchdown drive on their first possession. A pair of lost fumbles and an interception negated three successful drives into Raiders territory in the game’s opening half; three turnovers in two quarters almost always spells doom, let alone doing so on the road at one of the state’s toughest home venues.

And an inexperienced yet talented defense littered with future collegiate talent had allowed three long scoring drives, though a goal-line stand in the first quarter that limited the Raiders to a field goal helped. The lackluster performance on both sides of the ball pinned the Griffins with a 16-7 deficit – that felt like much more than nine points – as the team trotted into the south end zone to meet with coaches for halftime adjustments.

And it was during that 15-minute intermission that something clicked for Zvonar’s group. A fiery halftime speech from wide receivers coach Lance Lokanc, and another from Zvonar before the team took the field in the second half acted as a rallying point for their most impressive half of football to date.

The Griffins reeled off 34 unanswered points in the second half, and only a late Raiders touchdown in the game’s final minute kept Lincoln-Way East from pitching a second-half shutout in the 41-23 victory.

“At some point they’ve got to turn it on themselves,” Zvonar said after the game. “You can be a real clever coach, but they’ve got to make up in their minds (to do it). And I’m glad they did.”

All week in practice Zvonar had been preaching three words to his team: persistence, resolve and perseverance. And while his message was in relation to the previous week’s loss – wanting to see how his team learned from their first setback of the year – they received an in-game test, and passed with flying colors.

The offense bounced back in a major way. Quarterback Jake Arthur threw for a touchdown and ran for another, while Max Shafter connected on a 20-yard touchdown pass to Ken Anderson, who found the end zone for the fourth time. Jeremy Nelson was on the receiving end of Arthur’s, controlling his body on a fade route to the back of the end zone that got the offense going in the third quarter.

It was one of 11 receptions on the evening for Nelson, the Griffins’ leading receiver who finished with 133 yards.

“A lot of us had our heads down (at halftime),” Nelson said after the game. “Then Coach Z fired us up, Coach Lokanc fired us up, and that really got us going. We came out really strong.”

Four scores from the offense – running back Nigel Muhammad iced the game with a 37-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter – were a boon, but it was the defense that ramped up its intensity after halftime.

Zvonar’s group allowed just 39 yards in the second half. The Raiders completed three of 14 passes and averaged a measly 2.2 yards per rush. Defensive end Devin O’Rourke showed why he’s one of the most highly sought-after juniors in the state, tallying three sacks – two in the second half – and finishing with a game-high seven solo tackles.

Linebacker Brett Stegmueller was everywhere, racking up six tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery. The swarming Griffins defense took a lesson from the halftime talks, and persevered with their backs against the wall on the road.

“Just coming out making plays, just motivating the whole defense to come together playing as one,” he said. “That’s what allowed us to do what he did.”

Zvonar’s definition of showing resolve was illustrated clearly by wide receiver Nick Zelenika. The slot receiver fumbled in the first half and had a ball go off his hands that resulted in an interception early in the third quarter. But the senior responded, returning a punt 38 yards for a touchdown that gave the Griffins a 20-16 they did not relinquish.

“It’s easy to talk about what we’re going to do,” he said of the halftime speeches, “but to go out there and actually do it is a whole other thing. And I think we really showed that in the second half.”

It was only one game, albeit the Griffins’ last real steep competition before the playoffs roll around in six weeks. But the stark contrast from the prior week, when the Griffins came out firing against HF and fizzled down the stretch, gave them another difficult situation to look back on should they find themselves in a similar spot later in the year.

And unlike Week 3, the Griffins showed persistence, resolve and perseverance. They learned something about themselves in that loss, but were also able to take away an important lesson in what became their most impressive victory to do date.

“I think we found out maybe we’ve got a group that won’t quit when the chips are down,” Zvonar said. “I think that was the biggest thing. They kept battling, and we came out with a decisive win.”