MINOOKA – For many years, the question surrounding the Minooka football program usually was, “Will the Indians make the playoffs?”
Over the past decade or so, that’s been a foregone conclusion. The question that Minooka coach Matt Harding and his team now asks themselves is, “How far can we go in the playoffs?”
It’s a slight difference, but it means a lot.
“The expectation is to make the playoffs,” Harding said. “Now we want to see how far we can go once we get there.”
The Indians have a four-year streak of playoff appearances, which is the third such string in school history. They have never made the playoffs five years in a row.
They figure to change that this season.
“This is a good group we have,” third-year starting offensive lineman Ryan Susnar said. “We are going for a [Southwest Prairie Conference West] title, and then see how far we can advance in the playoffs.
“My brother was on the 2019 team that went 9-0 in the regular season and made the quarterfinals. I got to watch that, so football is in my blood. To play with the group of guys we have this year, I feel like it can be something special.”
The 6-foot-2, 260-pound Susnar is one of three returning offensive linemen for the Indians, along with Carter Gessner (6-2, 260) and Jeremy Marrero (6-2, 275). They will pave the way for running back Joey Partridges, who missed seven games last season with a broken collarbone, and provide protection for returning quarterback Gavin Dooley. Dooley’s main targets include Connor Christensen, Donovan Anderson and D.J. McIntosh.
“Gavin looks really good,” Harding said. “The offense has been really clicking so far. We have more guys returning on offense (six) than we do on defense (four), so the offense is a little ahead of the defense right now. That’s good, though, because going up against the offense every day will only make our defense better.”
Three of the returning defensive starters are linebackers, with senior Isaiah Dupree (6-2, 205) leading the way. Also returning are linebackers Cadyen Garcia (6-1, 185) and Alex Vaughn (5-11, 190). Marrero also will see time as a returning noseguard for the Indians.
“We’re ready to go,” Dupree said. “The junior class went 8-1 as sophomores, so they have a lot of good talent coming in. It’s nice to have three of our four linebackers coming back, too.
“The team goal is to win the conference and get a home game or two in the playoffs. We are definitely looking to be a high seed in the playoffs. The nice thing about practice starting for real is that we are all together. We can start bonding as a team and get a feel for what everyone can do when we are all on the field.”
Minooka will immediately get a chance to find out exactly how good they, as the season opener pits them against perennial power Bolingbrook. They then play SPC crossovers against Joliet West, Plainfield Central – which was 8-2 last season – and Romeoville before finishing with the SPC West schedule.
“We will get a test the first week, for sure,” Harding said. “Joliet West has a new coach, so they will have some evergy, and Plainfield Central had a good year last year. And in the games in our side of the conference, there are some big collisions. It is a physical conference, and we want to get through it healthy. We’ll be battle-tested when the playoffs come, which is good because in the 8A playoffs, there are no easy games.
“It’s nice that we have a good portion of our offensive line coming back. Susnar and Gessner are three-year starters, and that makes a big difference. That COVID year, they were able to get themselves adjusted to the varsity game, and now they have another year under their belts.
“The expectations are high. With the tough schedule we have, it will definitely prepare us for the playoffs. Last year we were 5-4, but we were able to walk into York, which was 8-1, and walk out of there with a win. That’s because the games we played during the regular season prepared us.”