The waiting game is finally over for head coach Kris Cassie and the Sandwich High School varsity football team.
After not fielding a varsity squad in 2022, the Indians will host Manteno to kick off the 2023 season at 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26. Sandwich returns to action as a member of the Kishwaukee River Conference Blue Division, which consists of schools with smaller enrollments than their counterparts in the KRC White Division.
Things looked bleak for Sandwich after the team had a rough go during the abbreviated 2021 campaign as a member of the tougher Interstate Eight Conference, leading to a shortage of players necessary to compete again in 2022.
“In 2021, we lost a third of the season due to COVID, and that really hurt morale,” Cassie explained. “We took a beating that season, and it got to the point where our seniors felt we didn’t have a chance heading into last year, especially against schools with twice our enrollment.”
Cassie and Co. decided to compete in ’22 with only a JV team, and the squad responded by sporting a solid 8-1 record. That sparked a renewed interest in the sport, and a total of 55 boys — from a school of 579 students overall — came out for football this summer.
“Last year, we made the decision to protect the young kids,” Cassie said. “They weren’t ready for varsity football, so we didn’t want to force them. The JV team won the first game, and that allowed us to continue to build throughout the year. In the end, we were 34 (players) strong, and there was a whole new resurgence to support football. Now, everyone is rallying around the program — the parents, the school, the town — and that attitude has been extremely fantastic. Everyone is excited to have varsity football back.”
That goes double for the players, who dedicated themselves to four days of workouts for three weeks in June, including daily weightlifting sessions. Work in the weight room starts with senior Parker Anderson, a 5-foot-7, 175-pound fullback/linebacker, who set a world record in his weight class by powerlifting 330 pounds during a tournament earlier this year. Cassie said that Anderson currently ranks among the top 10 (in his weight class) in the nation.
“He’s a weight room animal … pure muscle,” Cassie said. “You have to kick him out of the weight room. He sets the example for the other kids with his work ethic.”
Other Indians expected to make an impact include junior running back/cornerback Simeion Harris (5-10, 135) and junior right guard/defensive end Peter Popp (6-0, 205).
“Harris is incredibly strong on the football field, with a lot of skill and talent,” Cassie said. “He’s one of our hardest working players, and his attitude is always, ‘get better.’ Popp is another one who holds himself to a high standard … very finicky about his craft. He leads by example in the classroom, on the field and in the weight room … just an absolute gem to coach.”
Cassie said the trio’s leadership qualities have been a big plus as the team champs at the bit in preparation for the season opener.
“They’ve done an excellent job of keeping the team focused,” he said. “They appreciate every day together. Every day, the focus is on doing things the right way — the assistant coaches, our eight seniors, everyone. We say it all the time, trust the process and try to get 1 percent better every single day.”
Along with Harris, Anderson and Popp, Cassie included sophomore quarterback Brady Behringer (6-2, 175), junior wide receiver Calvin Lane Jr. (6-0, 175) and junior offensive lineman/nose tackle Tate Frieders (6-1, 245) among those he’s counting on to perform.
“Behringer is a legit QB. He’s really got an arm,” Cassie said. “We’re looking for good things from Lane (a transfer from Oswego), and for Frieders to be a standout as well.”
Cassie said the Indians will run an old-school wing-T formation on offense and a new-look 3-3 stacked defense.
“We want to grind it out and run the ball, and also get the ball to our playmakers (via the pass)” he said. “The 3-3 stacked ‘D’ is new for us, but it fits us scheme-wise. We still have work to do, but I’m looking for us to play fast, physical and fundamentally sound — week in and week out.”
After the season opener, Sandwich will host Petone on Aug. 31 and Plano on Sept. 8 before visiting Richmond Burton on Sept. 15. The Indians return home to face Johnsburg on Sept. 22, and will close the month with a trip to Harvard on Sept. 29.
The 2023 regular season concludes with a home game against Rochelle on Oct. 6, a visit to Marengo on Oct. 14 and a home tilt against Woodstock North on Oct. 20.