Friday Night Drive’s 2022 Defensive Player of the Year: Jake Scianna

Lincoln-Way East linebacker played through torn ACL for entire 2022 season

Lincoln-Way East’s Jake Scianna eyes the quarterback against Bolingbrook. Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, in Frankfort.

In the middle of summer, Lincoln-Way East linebacker Jake Scianna was having a bit of a pity party for himself.

It was certainly understandable. Scianna had just learned – contrary to an original diagnosis of a possible sprained knee – that his ACL was in fact torn. The repair would require a surgery and eliminate the possibility of playing for the Griffins during his senior season.

Days after the new diagnosis, mutual friends of the Scianna and Plantz families were hosting a gathering. One of the guests unwittingly held the key to unlock a plan that changed everything.

Ron Plantz, father of Providence head coach Tyler Plantz, is a family friend of the Sciannas after he crossed paths with Randy Scianna, Jake’s father, as football players at Notre Dame.

Lincoln-Way East’s Jake Scianna returns an interception against Bolingbrook. Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, in Frankfort.

Ron Plantz sat down with Jake Scianna and proffered a potential solution that no one had even considered – one that led to Scianna playing his entire senior season on the torn ACL and helping the Griffins to the Class 8A title game, where they fell to Loyola.

For his efforts, Scianna is the 2022 Friday Night Drive Defensive Player of the Year.

“I walked in and Jake was just sitting there crushed,” Ron Plantz said. “He was obviously devastated. And as I started talking with him, I don’t know why, it was just something that had come to mind.”

Plantz told Scianna of Montini’s Doug Diedrick, who entered the 2010 season as an All-State candidate and went on to play the season on a torn ACL. Plantz knew of the story because he played with Diedrick’s father, who was a walk-on at Notre Dame.

“I ended up also seeing [Doug Diedrick] right after it happened, and like Jake, he was devastated,” Plantz said. “But what they did was they sought some orthopedic advice and got fitted for a brace, and he ended up playing.

“And it was kind of some of the same parallels that Jake was going into. And at that time, Jake wasn’t aware that was even an option.”

Plantz proceeded to connect Scianna with Diedrick, a conversation that was held en route to Scianna’s pre-operative appointment. Had it not been for Plantz’s intervention, that appointment would have led to season-ending surgery for Scianna a few days later.

Instead, Diedrick was able to give Scianna questions to ask his surgeon about the possibility that he also could try to forge the same path his new friend did.

“I talked to [Diedrick] on the way to my pre-surgical appointment, and when I talked to my doctor he was like, ‘That’s not crazy at all,’ and that he was pretty liberal with those types of things,” Scianna said.

“We can give you a practice brace, and you can give it a shot,” Scianna’s doctor told him.

Diedrick knew his path isn’t available to every athlete who suffers a torn ACL, but it didn’t take long for him to recognize the similarities.

“I’ve had a couple of people reach out over these years that have had a torn ACL, and after talking to them they would ask about how I was able to play, but in some of those situations, it was like, ‘If you can’t walk, you can’t play,” Diedrick said.

“I’m not a doctor, but if your doctor clears you, there’s a handful of things that you can do to see if you are able to do it. But the more I heard about his story, the more I thought it tied almost exactly to mine.”

Diedrick didn’t know Scianna at all before that phone call. He quickly learned he didn’t need to worry about Scianna putting in the necessary effort to give him the best chance at success.

“The biggest one was keeping the strength,” Diedrick said. “I remember my doctors telling me the reason that I was lucky enough to play on it was that the muscles around the joint were strong enough that I wasn’t as reliant on the ACL. That was kind of drilled into me to keep that as strong as I can. And I would do things every day to strengthen that leg.”

Scianna pushed hard to ensure strength was not going to be an issue.

But Diedrick also knew that Scianna had a long road ahead – one that would need just as much mental devotion as physical.

“I told him it is wasn’t worth trying to pick and choose when you are going to play,” Diedrick said. “If you are going to do it, you have to do it 100%. And you have to test it out as much as you can during the week, so the first time you are taking on a block it isn’t in a game.

“You want to stress test it as much as you can because the mental side was just as critical as the physical side of it.”

Lincoln-Way East’s Jake Scianna does the traditional sledge hammer slam as the team enters the field before the game against Batavia. Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Frankfort.

As frustrating as it was at times early in the year, Scianna also followed Diedrick’s advice as if it were the law.

Scianna slowly gained confidence and barely showed any signs that anything was wrong by the end of the season. He finished the season with 96 total tackles, including 58 solo stops, with seven tackles for loss, three sacks and two interceptions.

He also gained a big fan from afar in Diedrick, who now serves as linebackers coach at Montini.

“It was fun to watch, but it was also pretty eerie,” Diedrick said. “I felt like I was invested and following him on his journey. I was all-state, and he was all-state, and I told him we’re definitely the only two all-staters that did it with one ACL. I don’t know of any other stories like this.”

Diedrick will be watching carefully as Scianna takes his next steps. Scianna seeks a spot at a Power Five school to continue his playing career. Diedrick also faced the same decision when his Montini career was over, eventually walking on at Northwestern, where he played four seasons with the Wildcats.

Diedrick also is certain what Scianna just endured is only going to make him stronger, in more ways than one.

“It was special for me to be a small part of Jake’s story because I know how those six months of my life really affected me down the road in a very positive way,” Diedrick said. “I got to know Jake through this journey, and I have total confidence that he’s going to be better off from this.”

Scianna also now finds himself in an extremely specific and small fraternity, one that Diedrick hopes could add a few more members at some point.

“Hopefully 10 years down the road, someone reaches out to him and wants to hear his story,” Diedrick said. “... And he could do the same thing for them.”