CRYSTAL LAKE – Crystal Lake South football coach Rob Fontana knows replacing Kyle Leva, a three-year varsity player and the Gators' all-time leader in career touchdowns, is easier said than done.
"He's a hard piece to replace," Fontana said. "He was my everything guy. Everyone knows that when you're playing South, the piece that needs to be stopped is Kyle Leva. What he has done for us will be almost impossible to replace."
Leva ran for 1,018 yards and 13 touchdowns his senior season to cap off a three-year varsity career and also was the Gators' second leading receiver with 223 yards and four scores. The versatile back no longer will be a fixture in the backfield at South's Ken Bruhn Field, leaving a noticeable hole on offense.
Even without Leva, Fontana is confident that he has the right mix of skill players to fill the void.
"We have a lot of guys working hard," said Fontana, entering his second year as South's head coach. "We had some guys step up and have success last year when Leva was hurt, and they really showed me something.
"I have guys who are hungry to come back, make a name for themselves, and make sure we don't miss a beat."
One of those players Fontana expects to help fill the production lost by Leva is Zach Borgert, who ran for 182 yards and two touchdowns his junior season. Borgert started two games for South last year when Leva was injured. He ran for 93 yards in a Week 7 loss to Cary-Grove.
Borgert is one of the fastest players on South and qualified for the Class 3A boys track and field state meet in the 200-meter dash and the 4x200 relay in the spring. Borgert has spent extra time in the weight room this offseason, knowing he will be taking more carries and hits from defenses.
"He’s obviously a guy that moves pretty well and he works his butt off," Fontana said. "He’s been at weights and conditioning all summer long. He’s putting on some weight. He’s gonna be a solid piece for us."
Borgert said that he is excited to show what he can do on the field and will take many lessons he learned from Leva into his senior year. It will also be nice running behind South's big offensive line, which includes a pair of NCAA Division-I recruits in Trevor Keegan (6-foot-6, 310 pounds) and Dominic Collado (6-4, 290), he said.
"Kyle just really taught me to try my hardest every play, no matter what," Borgert said. "It means a lot to follow in Kyle’s footsteps and be the guy. He taught myself and everyone so much about the game and how to play it the right way."
Fontana said he has toned things down on offense so far this summer, as "we want to be good at doing a few things instead of being average in a lot of things." One area he sees being a strength is at wide receiver.
Junior quarterback Ian Gorken, who started last season as a sophomore, will have multiple options at receiver in seniors Jacob Rana, Ryan Lawson and Michael Helm, among others.
Rana thinks the offense is ready to take a big step forward in the players' second year with Fontana in charge. South was 3-6 last year, dropping its first four games, with wins against Dundee-Crown, Hampshire and West Chicago.
"It took a couple of games to really get things going," said Rana, who led South in receiving last year with 386 yards and five scores. "I think the offense is ready to get rolling. It feels like we’ve been out here forever. Last year, we didn't have our feet wet. It's a big jump (from JV to varsity). Everyone just feels more comfortable now."