Zach Reyes remembers well his first taste of varsity football.
As a sophomore at Sandwich two years ago, Reyes was thrown into the fire. He started the season’s last two games at linebacker.
“I was the smallest guy out there,” Reyes said. “I was really nervous at first, but it gave me a lot of experience for the next two years.”
Reyes, all grown up now, is ready for his last go-round. And, he hopes, ready to re-establish Sandwich’s winning ways.
Reyes and the rest of the Indians got their start Monday. The anticipation of the first football practice is palpable everywhere around Illinois, but especially for a program coming off back-to-back 2-7 seasons. Sandwich has missed the playoffs the last three years after qualifying in five of six years prior to that.
“We want that winning record and to go back to the playoffs for the first time for us seniors,” Reyes said. “We’ve had a couple down years, but we have a lot of talent on this team. We want to change the tradition here.”
Chris VanDyke, going into his fourth season as Indians’ coach, liked the work his team put in during a busy July. Now, though, things get real before the Aug. 25 opener at Lisle.
“This is where it’s no longer summer camp. This is their season,” VanDyke said. “It’s officially started and we’re trying to hold them accountable. This is the tone-setter.”
Reyes, who received his first collegiate offer from Robert Morris in July, has packed on close to 30 pounds since that first varsity start as a young pup. He’s sliding over from outside linebacker to middle linebacker this fall, a position he has played in the past.
“It’s a big role,” Reyes said. “You have to be the leader of the defense, but I think I can take it.”
His coach agrees.
“Zach is an unselfish leader,” VanDyke said. “He’s not a vocal guy, but he leads by example. He’s a professional with how he goes about his business and someone you can count on.”
Reyes is also happy to be healthy.
He missed four games as a sophomore after having his appendix removed. Reyes had to take medicine daily earlier this year to remedy a hole in his esophagus connecting to the stomach. He finally felt well this summer.
“We’re glad he can be out here to lead the team,” VanDyke said.
Sandwich, if anything, is deeper than when Reyes arrived on the varsity scene two years ago. Derek Murphy anchors an experienced line on both sides. Reyes, Brady and Brett Butler, Dylan Baumbach and Jimmy Roop are among those who could contribute at receiver.
The quarterback job is still being settled between senior Joe Wiggins and junior Mike Frieders.
“We’ve played two quarterbacks in the past,” VanDyke said. “It’s who is going to separate themselves from the pack. We had a successful summer camp. We’re just polishing up what we worked on over the summer.”
Football key dates
Monday: Practice began
Friday, Aug. 25: Regular season begins
Saturday, Oct. 21: Playoff pairings announced
Friday, Oct. 27: Playoffs begin
Friday-Saturday, Nov. 24-25: State finals at Huskie Stadium, DeKalb