HUNTLEY – Huntley’s football team found success moving around versatile athlete Alex Janke.
Janke started at defensive back and worked some at wide receiver as a junior in 2019. He moved to linebacker and emerged as a key offensive player at running back his senior year.
Huntley coach Matt Zimolzak’s reasoning was simple: Get the ball into the hands of the team’s best athlete.
The Red Raiders have plans to use Chris Medina, a defensive backfield standout the past two seasons, in a somewhat similar manner. Medina will play linebacker on defense and be used at running back on offense.
Medina started at defensive back his sophomore year with three interceptions and four pass breakups. As a safety in the five-game spring 2021 season, he had two interceptions, forced one fumble and was selected to the Northwest Herald All-Area second team.
Medina, a workout warrior who put on almost 40 pounds over the past 18 months, has enjoyed the move to linebacker as well as his additional offensive duties. He feels the transition to offense has been a smooth one.
“I think it’s fun,” Medina said. “I kind of played offense freshman year, so I’m kind of used to it. Now I’m more included with running back.”
Zimolzak compared Janke with Medina and complimented their strengths as players.
“Chris Medina is a much thicker running back,” Zimolzak said. “More of an inside linebacker look playing outside linebacker for us. They both have tremendous speed. Alex was a little faster than him, but Chris is one of the fastest on our team. They’re both leaders. It’s great having them on both sides of the ball. Just his downhill speed as a running back and the way he is able to pursue and cover people on defense is very much the same as Alex.”
Medina said that Janke, the Spring 2021 Northwest Herald Player of the Year, played a key part in helping him adjust.
“When I saw Alex switch, it looked so easy to him,” Medina said. “I asked Alex a lot about how the switch was, asking how similar it was to safety and what my different reads and keys were before I even started playing linebacker because I knew I’d end up there. He was really helpful and is one of the reasons I was able to pick it up so fast.”
Zimolzak noticed the speed that Medina has and commented on what he brings to the team. Janke was the starting running back, a job that likely will go to Ryder Hunkins, who was a backup this spring. Medina will offer a different look when he comes in at running back.
“Right now he’s starting linebacker,” Zimolzak said. “The running back piece we’re working on. It’s developing. We tried him out, we thought he could do it, and he’s been doing a great job with it. Ryder is our guy. He’ll get more reps as the summer goes on. It gives us a nice 1-2 punch with those two guys. Ryder’s more of a power back. Chris gives us a little more speed on the edges.”
Medina (5-foot-9, 190 pounds) has built himself up significantly since his sophomore year. He lifts weights at Yatos’ Basement, a gym run by brothers DJ and Anthony Yatos, six days a week for about two hours a day. Medina has worked with the brothers for almost two years.
“Since , I put on 40 pounds of just muscle,” Medina said. “I’ve put on a lot of speed, too. Sophomore year I was like 145. Junior year, like a few months ago for our season, I was about 180, and now I’m 190.”
Zimolzak is eager to get back on the field for a full season with a sense of normalcy in the the fall, with Medina leading the way.
“He’s a leader out here,” Zimolzak said. “Everybody looks up to him. The energy and the amount of work he put in in the offseason is what everybody’s looking at. It kind of shows what we want to become. He’s a tremendous athlete and a great role model for these kids.”