CRYSTAL LAKE – Crystal Lake Central offensive lineman Aidan Landt has been working with Steve Spoden since fourth grade. So two years ago when the lineman coach told Landt he was joining the coaching staff at Central, Landt couldn’t have been happier.
“He’s one of the best O-line coaches there is,” Landt said. “I would not want anybody else.”
Spoden will have to find the right pieces to replace Northwestern-bound lineman Wyatt Blake. But with three returning starters – including Landt, a senior left tackle – the Tigers believe the line is in good shape.
“We have a lot of kids back who played on Friday nights,” coach Jon McLaughlin said. “We’re not bulky or overly intimidating up front, but the kids will get the job done.”
Landt, senior Cameron Calhan and junior Ryan Pipitone should provide some returning experience. Junior Quentin Lackey also earned playing time last season. Calhan is a three-year starter at guard for the Tigers, who went 5-5 last season and reached the Class 6A state playoffs.
“It would have been a lot harder if we had a bunch of people graduate,” Landt said. “We already had people coming in who knew our offense, were on the second team. It was all pretty much substituting out two guys. We’re pretty much back already how we were before.”
The notable absence is Blake. Also graduated is Zach Nugent, who played center.
Landt said what stood out most about Blake wasn’t his skillset but his personality and his leadership.
“He knows tough leadership,” Landt said. “Usually the quarterback will be the leader of the team. When you have someone on the line like that, it’s great for the team.”
Spoden has worked with the area's top linemen, including current Green Bay Packers lineman Bryan Bulaga.
“I’ve been doing camps with [Spoden]," Landt said. "Guys from other schools would come and we’d play and we’d get to do camps with them, work on stuff. Then he comes here, and we’re doing [the same drills] at practice. It’s even more great technique practice and everything.”
The Central offensive line likely will be protecting another left-handed quarterback. Lefty Aidan Ellinger is the front-runner for the starting QB position, taking over for graduated lefty Jake Staples.
Offensively, the Tigers will look similar to how they did last year, showing some spread offense looks with run-pass options for the quarterback.