LENA, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — We’ll always wonder what might have happened if there had been a normal football season last fall with the playoffs and state championships to shoot for. The Le-Win Panthers might have been able to pull off a repeat at State in class 1A. With the pandemic hopefully behind us the Panthers are back to shooting for those same familiar championship goals.
Le-Win has had a long run of players who have been committed to achieving success. The result has been four state championships and several other deep playoff runs. This current group of players has that same drive to succeed.
“We’ve known all along that this senior group was a great group of kids, so we’ve known for a while what we were going to get out of them as far as commitment goes, and they’ve been incredible,” said head coach Ric Arand.
“We’re expected to either have an undefeated season or have a pretty good season, and there’s always that pressure, but we’ve always got to strive for the best,” said tight end and linebacker Brody Mahon.
“We all know what we’re capable of doing, so a state championship is definitely our goal, but first a conference championship,” said running back/cornerback Marey Roby.
Having Marey Roby back on the field and healthy is huge. He broke his fibula in the opening game last spring.
“Everyone is super-energized for this including me,” said Roby.
I think Marey has a chance to be one of the better backs that’s ever come through here, and certainly this year in this area I think he could, he’s got a chance to be the best,” said Arand.
If defenses key on Roby the Panthers have several other speedy, talented backs waiting to make them pay.
“Some of them are bigger than others. Some of them are faster and stronger than others, but I think every one of them I wouldn’t be afraid to play in any situation,” said Arand.
If Roby is Le-Win’s Batman at running back, who’s Robin?
“I’m going to say (Ethan) Fye. Fye’s my guy,” said Roby. “Everybody better be ready for Fye because he’s a dog!”
Everybody also better be ready for speedy Jake Zeal, and Brady Eilders, and there’s Gennings Dunker’s little brother Gage who they call “Mini-Dunker” although he’s not so mini.
“He’s got some wheels on him, and he’s a big boy like almost 6-foot 200 pounds as a sophomore,” said Roby.
Luke Benson is back for his third season as the starting quarterback.”
“He will be a kid that we’ll really lean on this year and expect great things from,” said Arand. “And I think we will get great things.”
Up front there’s returning first team all-conference lineman Ross Stabenow and all-conference center Maddux Sargent, and honorable mention all-conference left tackle Tyler Croatt. Mahon gives the Panthers more size and strength at tight end.
Most of these same Panthers also play on defense. Mahon was first team all-conference last season at linebacker and Roby is a lock-down, big-play cornerback.
“This team overall, we obviously like what we’ve seen so far,” said Arand.