Who are these guys?
Fortunately for Batavia’s Jimmy Zitkus and his teammates on the offensive line, their names are stenciled above the number on the backs of their jerseys.
It allows more than family to recognize them when they step onto the field.
“It’s very much an unsung group,” Batavia coach Dennis Piron said.
The 6-foot-1, 265-pound Zitkus leads the Bulldogs at right guard, the only senior among the starting five.
An honorable mention all-conference selection last season at left guard, he was voted a team co-captain in the offseason after putting on 20 pounds of muscle and improving his speed.
“Jimmy is a heckuva leader,” Piron said. “It was impressive. He’s just that guy. He was voted co-captain for a reason. He’s got our line where it’s at.
“It’s Jimmy and a bunch of juniors.”
They include 6-3, 245-pound Nick Ruiz at right tackle, 6-1, 220-pound Jack David at center, 6-3, 240-pound Frankie Porcaro at left guard and 6-4, 245-pound Jonathan Brown at left tackle.
Depending on the situation, the lineup can also feature 6-4, 230-pound senior Kyle Kristensen at tight end, 6-1, 225-pound senior JP Chaney at up back and 6-2, 210-pound junior Charlie Whelpley at fullback.
Unappreciated? Not by Piron and his coaching staff.
“We’re better than people realize on offense,” said Piron, whose team escaped undefeated Hersey last week 19-13 in double overtime in otherworldly conditions with strong winds.
It sent the Bulldogs (8-3) to the Class 7A quarterfinals with a 1 p.m. home date Saturday against Yorkville (10-1), which survived Moline 34-31 in four overtimes and windy conditions, too.
“Last week was just weird with that weather,” Piron said. “But we can move the ball. (Quarterback) Ryan Boe can throw it. We’ve got nice weapons that will go get it, and I feel like we’re finally healthy.”
Former offensive lineman Alvin Cole, a 2004 Batavia graduate, assists veteran offensive line coach PJ White with the Bulldogs’ group. He said anonymity comes with the territory.
“I think every offensive line, across the board, is going to be an unsung group,” Cole said. “This group especially just continues to work. ”
Those who score the points and gain yards get the attention.
Road graders like Zitkus and his buddies pave the way. They take satisfaction for contributing to that success when teammates get their names in the newspaper or receive accolades.
Both teams this week have high-profile defenses, but the businesslike Zitkus isn’t swayed.
“It’s a team game,” he said, noting both sides stepped up last week for the Bulldogs.
That was especially true in overtime.
“Our defense did what they needed to do to stop Hersey,” Zitkus said. “You couldn’t really pass, making it a one-phase game with just the run.”
Batavia struggled out of the gate this year with a challenging schedule, losing to Class 8A power Lincoln-Way East and defending 7A state champ Wheaton North.
“I’m really proud of how we handled it,” Zitkus said. “We didn’t get down at all. We just went back to work, getting back at it.
“Lincoln-Way East was a real challenge and made us better. It was probably the best D-line we’ve faced. I felt we came together after that and kept getting better as the season went on. It’s been a great journey, I guess.”
“They’re pretty big and fire off the ball pretty good,” Zitkus said. “I think the two ends are their best. We have to blow them off the ball.”
The teams haven’t met since 2009 when they were both in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East and the Foxes won 14-12.
The seniors do have some history, according to Zitkus.
“In our last game of the season in middle school, we lost to them,” he said. “So, it’s kind of a revenge game for us.”