Jason Penza is ready to lead Crystal Lake Central to new heights this season.
After getting a brief taste as the lead quarterback last year, the junior will step into the starting role and has taken steps over the offseason to make sure the Tigers play at an even more frenetic pace than they did last year.
“We’ve upped the intensity a lot,” Penza said. “Last year wasn’t as serious as this year. This year, people coming up, they want to play at the next level for this team. They want to show out.”
Penza has taken the lead in trying to up the intensity as he takes over the starting QB job. He’ll replace Colton Madura, who graduated after he helped lead the Tigers to their first quarterfinal appearance since 2012 and an 8-4 overall record last fall.
Madura was named the Fox Valley Conference’s 2021 Offensive Player of the Year and earned Northwest Herald All-Area First Team honors after throwing for 1,846 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Penza played in three games last season and started twice while Madura dealt with an injury. Penza was thrown in to play during the first half against state champion Cary-Grove after Madura suffered an injury in Week 3 and went on to start against Hampshire and Dundee-Crown the following weeks.
The quarterback threw for 215 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for another in his start against Dundee-Crown.
That experience taught Penza what it takes to compete against tough opponents, especially when he was thrown in to play against Cary-Grove. Penza worked on his footwork and timing this summer and feels more confident with what he and the offense can do.
Penza and his receivers receiver have met this summer at Crystal Lake Central for sessions outside of practices during the offseason and spent hours learning the playbook together and running specific plays.
The Tigers will feature a group of seven or eight receivers, according to head coach Dirk Stanger. Junior George Dimopoulos returns, but Central will need to replace the production of leading receiver Jake Carnite and Charlie Fleming, both of who graduated.
“It’s a next-man-up type of mentality,” Stanger said. “That’s what they’re getting here over the summer.”
Dimopoulos said he has enjoyed working with Penza and the offense this offseason and valued how important chemistry can be to their success. The Tigers know there will be many different moments during the season where Penza will need to know how a receiver likes to break during a route and a receiver will need to know what Penza’s tendencies are in certain situations.
“It’s pretty important during the game,” Dimopoulos said. “You have to have energy during the game, even if you’re down, you can’t be, you can’t be down on yourself, you have to pick each other up.”
The Tigers have brought the intensity and work ethic this summer. Central hopes that extra effort will help lead the Tigers to another deep postseason run.
“All the coaches expect us to bring it every day,” Penza said. “That’s something that we’re doing.”