Lincoln-Way East’s Tom Fuessel having special season
By Pat Disabato firstname.lastname@example.org November 22, 2012 9:32PM
Lincoln-Way East quarterback Tom Fuessel. | File photo
IHSA State Football Playoffs
All games at Memorial Stadium, Champaign
Television: Comcast Sports Net
Montini (11-2) vs. Morris (12-1), 10 a.m.
Crete-Monee (13-0) vs. Cary-Grove (13-0), 1 p.m.
Lincoln-Way Eat (13-0) vs. Glenbard West (13-0), 4 p.m.
Mount Carmel (12-1) vs. Glenbard North (12-1), 7 p.m.
Updated: December 24, 2012 6:54AM
Tom Fuessel didn’t enjoy sitting on the bench last season.
Players, especially competitive ones, rarely do.
The experience, however, wasn’t void of value, according to Fuessel.
In fact, the Mokena resident isn’t certain he and his No. 1-ranked Lincoln-Way East teammates would be enjoying the success they have this season without it.
“Being around a talented team like that, there were some great role models who helped us prepare for this year,” Fuessel said of last year’s Griffins team that finished 10-1. “Not just on the field but off it. That was a great team. Very talented. Being the scout team quarterback, I was able to practice against the starting defense. That definitely helped us out for this year.”
And what a year it’s been for Fuessel and the Griffins, who take on Glenbard West at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Class 7A state championship in Champaign.
The Griffins, with just five returning starters, entered the season as an untested commodity.
Virtual unknowns, almost.
That includes Fuessel, who scraped together some garbage time backing up Blake Winkler, the 2011 SouthtownStar Player of the Year.
The anonymity didn’t last long for East and Fuessel.
The Griffins are a perfect 13-0 and Fuessel is leading the charge.
The senior has rushed for 1,502 yards and 21 touchdowns and passed for 1,070 yards and eight scores.
The numbers, however, don’t tell the entire story, according to East coach Rob Zvonar.
“He’s done some things that just make your jaw drop,” Zvonar said. “You just can’t believe it. How he makes something out of nothing. How he eludes defenders. He’s done things I’ve never seen done before. I’m just glad he’s on our side.”
Fuessel’s success has steered some criticism Zvonar’s way.
Like how in the world did Zvonar not find a spot on the field for Fuessel last season? If not at quarterback, than at another position.
“Oh, I’ve heard it,” Zvonar said. “In hindsight, we should have taken a longer look at playing him at another position. But we had a very good quarterback, very good wide receivers. Our defensive backs were good.
“What people don’t realize is that Tom wasn’t as strong as he is now. He was 150 pounds last year. Plus, he wanted to be a quarterback. He’s improved his passing. He has a nice arm. And he’s gotten stronger.”
Now 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, Fuessel is difficult to bring down. Combine that with his blazing speed — 4.32 in the 40-yard dash — and remarkable elusiveness and what you have is a rare asset: a player who’s left more than one defender shaking his head during games.
“The one I remember most is the Bolingbrook game,” recalled Fuessel, who would much prefer to talk about his teammates than himself. “It was in the middle of the play and I got stuffed but they didn’t wrap up and I got away. I heard one of their players, while I was running, say, ‘What the heck is going on?’ ”
Once Fuessel, who played youth football with the Mokena Burros, finds space, it’s like chasing a runaway train.
He has another gear few people possess.
So what’s it like to have that type of speed in the open field?
“You put your head up and you just run for your life,” he said, chuckling. “You see daylight and you hear the crowd getting loud and you say to yourself, ‘don’t get caught.’
Surprisingly, Fuessel was caught once this season in the open field, against Edwardsville.
His teammates were stunned.
“I don’t know what to say about that,” said Fuessel, shaking his head. “I don’t know what happened, but I got caught. My teammates couldn’t understand how I got caught. My dad (Tom) said, ‘I was going against the wind and the guy was drafting me.’ ”
One win stands in the way of Lincoln-Way East earning the second state championship in the program’s 12-year history. The first occurred in 2005.
Fuessel has immense respect for Glenbard West, which eliminated the Griffins from the 2010 playoffs.
But the Northern Illinois recruit can’t imagine his team’s season-long goal not being realized.
“We’ve made it to state and that’s great,” he said. “But the state championship is everything we’ve worked for. There’s no other choice.”