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FISHER — The text message was one you never quite expect to see from a football coach. Or any coach for that matter.
“Should I get any costumes?” Fisher football head coach Matt Leng sent me last Wednesday morning.
Leng, a Rantoul resident, put the idea in my head a couple weeks ago to have him break down the eight state championship football games that will take place this Friday and Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. I figured, why not? Leng, who just finished his 11th season leading the Bunnies, is always a quotable figure.
You’re never quite sure what he’s going to say, hence why his former players can relate to one another with Lengisms, sayings only he could come up with.
We’ll add his “Should I get any costume” text message to me up there in the echelon of Lengisms.
But there he was on Monday morning at Fisher High School, hurrying about, with notes scrawled in red pen on a manila folder about the 16 teams that will take to the turf in Champaign this weekend.
And along with him was a referee jersey (complete with an Illinois High School Association patch, no less), a headset, a clipboard and a ruler to point out the picks that he wrote down.
So yes, Leng showed up with costumes. And he showed up with predictions.
“I have studied diligently,” Leng proudly boasted before explaining his picks.
Stockton (13-0) vs. Maroa-Forsyth (12-1) — 10 a.m., Friday
Fast fact: Rantoul Township High School will join Maroa-Forsyth in a revamped Okaw Valley Conference starting in the 2014-15 school year.
Leng’s pick: Stockton
Leng’s reasoning: “I think they’re the best football team in Class 1A. They have a big line full of three-year starters that have been playing since their sophomore years. They took their lumps as sophomores when they were 3-6. They have an incredible running back by the name of T.J. Knutson, who has over 2,000 yards and 27 touchdowns. I like that name T.J., so I’m going with Stockton. I think that the teams up north are tougher, stronger and just have a bigger and nastier swagger about them. If you don’t believe me, ask Tuscola. I’ve got three words for you: Galena, Dakota and Lena-Winslow. This is the next 1A state champ.”
Belleville Althoff (10-3) vs. Mercer County (13-0) — 1 p.m., Friday
Fast fact: Althoff senior defensive tackle Merrick Jackson is an Illinois commit.
Leng’s pick: Mercer County
Leng’s reasoning: “Tanner Matlick is the quarterback for Aledo Mercer County. He’s an all-stater. His main receiver is Payton Holmes. Zach Nelson is their running back. As I stated before, on the western side of the state and the northern side of the state, kids are tough over there and blue collar. The tradition and mystique of Aledo football was established with Cully Welter. It is now Aledo Mercer County, and it is still the top dog. They will overcome a tough Belleville Althoff team, led by Merrick Jackson, who is an all-stater, and they will win with their spread attack.”
Aurora Christian (12-1) vs. Unity (12-1) — 4 p.m., Friday
Fast fact: Aurora Christian head coach Don Beebe is the same Don Beebe who played in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills and Green Bay Packers who also famously ripped the ball out of Leon Lett’s hands as Lett was about to score a touchdown in Super Bowl XXVII.
Leng’s pick: Aurora Christian
Leng’s reasoning: “Aurora Christian has got two all-staters in Chad Beebe, who is a wide receiver and the coach’s son, and Brandon Mayes, a linebacker. I’m going to steal a line from coach Mike Papoccia from Sterling Newman. He has said that if they play like they played against Sterling Newman (in a 41-7 semifinal win on Saturday) that no one will beat them in 3A. Unity, with Micah Johnson and Mitch Negangard, plus their tough defense that has really been underrated the last two games, is going to be up for an enormous challenge. I will say this, I think (Unity’s) Scott Hamilton is one of the best coaches in the state. You give him some time and a little advanced preparation, he’ll have his team ready. I think talent-wise that Aurora Christian is just a little bit better.”
Rochester (12-1) vs. Rock Island Alleman (12-1) — 7 p.m., Friday
Fast fact: Rochester has won the last two 4A state titles, and senior running back Garret Dooley is committed to Wisconsin.
Leng’s pick: Alleman
Leng’s reasoning: “Two words for you. Oregon and Stanford. Rochester is the Oregon Ducks of high school football. With Austin Green at quarterback and Garret Dooley at running back, their game is still spread and very diverse with coach Leonard, who’s a great coach and comes from a great bloodline with his dad. They’re very hard to stop, (and) their defense is probably the best in 4A, however, I’m going to go with the ground game (of Alleman). With John Tracey at quarterback, their theme is they’ll wear people out, just like Stanford wore Oregon out. They’re going to play old-school football. It’s a rematch of two years ago. They were in that game. I think they’re going to win in a squeaker.”
Morris (12-1) vs. Montini (11-2) — 10 a.m., Saturday
Fast fact: Montini’s senior class will try to win the school’s fourth straight state title.
Leng’s pick: Montini
Leng’s reasoning: “Morris has a really good tradition, and they have an enormous defensive end/tight end in Danny Friend, a good quarterback in Zach Cinnamon and a good running back in Reese Sobol, who had 137 yards rushing (in the semifinals). I’m going with the powerhouse in Montini. Joe Borsellino had the winning touchdown for Montini (in the semifinals). They’re very tough to stop offensively. Joliet Catholic could not stop them. Morris will take them right down to the wire. I just think Montini has too much talent.”
Cary-Grove (13-0) vs. Crete-Monee (13-0) — 1 p.m., Saturday
Fast fact: Crete-Monee has the nation’s top uncommitted wide receiver in senior Laquon Treadwell.
Leng’s pick: Cary-Grove
Leng’s reasoning: “This is my upset pick. Although I want to go with Laquon Treadwell, the all-state wide receiver, and Marcus Terrell at quarterback, I’m going to go with the ground attack of Cary-Grove. Cary-Grove had over 500 yards rushing in their (semifinal win) on Saturday. Ryan Mahoney and Quinn Baker are a 1-2 solid punch running the ball. Hey, they’ve got simple uniforms, a simple game plan and a tradition of running the ball. That’s my type of football.”
Glenbard West (13-0) vs. Lincoln-Way East (13-0) — 4 p.m., Saturday
Fast fact: Lincoln-Way East senior quarterback Tom Fuessel is a Northern Illinois commit.
Leng’s pick: Lincoln-Way East
Leng’s reasoning: “Although I’m a fan of Glenbard West head coach Chad Hetlet — I think he’s a great coach, and we’ve studied some of his stuff as far as the jet sweep here at Fisher — I’m going to go with Lincoln-Way East. I’m a big fan of (Lincoln-Way East) head coach Rob Zvonar. He’s been very nice to me over the years. Their quarterback, that Tom Fuessel, every time I see him run around, he amazes me with his speed and his athleticism. It’s 13-0 versus 13-0. The last time Lincoln-Way won was in 2005 against Maine South 30-24 in double overtime. I really like this quarterback. They basically owned the momentum and swagger of that (semifinal) game on Saturday. Nick Colangelo, their running back, had 38 carries. I really like that when you get a guy 38 carries. It might have a little bit of an effect there, and I think the X factor is they’ve won a state championship.”
Chicago Mt. Carmel (12-1) vs. Glenbard North (12-1) —7 p.m., Saturday
Fast fact: Chicago Mt. Carmel head coach Frank Lenti has never had a losing records in 29 seasons.
Leng’s pick: Glenbard North
Leng’s reasoning: “You’ve got a Butkus at quarterback for Chicago Mt. Carmel (senior Don). You’ve got option football. You’ve got a nice running back in Draco Smith, and Jason Gasser, a wide receiver, had a big game Saturday. The defense is led by Enoch Smith and Steve Richardson up front, but I really, really, really like this Glenbard North team. They’re going for their first-ever state title. I really like them in a shocker.”
There you have it. Leng said he plans to be at some of this weekend’s games in Champaign. If you have time, venture out. They won’t return to Champaign until 2014 because of scheduling conflicts with the Big Ten Conference.
Plus, if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll see Leng in a costume. On second thought, maybe that’s not a sight you’ll want to see. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Matt Daniels is the sports editor of the Rantoul Press newspaper. Like the column, love the column or hate the column? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org