MAPLE PARK – As word trickled through the team after running back Jesse Balluff sent out a text to a few teammates that he’d be out for the season with a torn ACL three weeks ago, the emotional hit was palpable.
After the third week of his senior season, the elected captain and Daily Chronicle Player of the Year candidate would play football for Kaneland no more. Junior Isaac Swithers, who played on the sophomore team last season, replaced him, and the leadership void would have to be filled with a team effort.
“It was pretty tough, because he’s been a guy that we’ve been playing with forever,” quarterback Drew David said. “Not only is he a vocal leader, but he does stuff on the field without talking ... From then on, we haven’t really had a choice, we’ve had to deal with it.”
As painful as the loss was, at least Balluff for Swithers was a one-to-one switch.
The change on the offensive line that coincided with Balluff’s injury caused all sorts of shifts.
Left tackle Joe Komel suffered an injury, which caused shifts all over the offensive line. Coach Tom Fedderly had to move right guard Alex Snyder to left tackle, and he moved left guard Shane Jorgenson to right guard so he could put Sam Bower in at left guard.
“That was the biggest adjustment,” Fedderly said. “[Swithers] was fine, he was always repping all year, so it wasn’t that big a deal with him, [the offensive line] was a crazy mess.”
When Komel returned last week, his sore toe lent itself to playing on the right side, so he moved to right tackle, and Justin Diddell moved to left.
What most teams may view as a crisis ended up being a minor blip for the Knights. They won their next three games by a combined 94 points, including a 29-point blowout of previously unbeaten Rochelle.
With the offensive line now healthy, Swithers has adjusted to his new role, where he’s run for 194 yards on 35 carries.
“It’s good having a big responsibility like this,” Swithers said. “Drew is really helping me out getting comfortable with the offense, the offensive line is helping me out … Everyone knows what they’re doing, we have big size, too. [The offensive line shuffle] hasn’t really affected anything at all, because they all know what they’re doing.”
Heading into the last three games of the season, Kaneland has been through their rough patch. With games against Yorkville, Sycamore and Morris left before the playoffs, the Knights’ running game appears almost as good as ever.
“I was worried about it with Rochelle, but the guys did fine,” Fedderly said. “The running game was fine. I knew coming into this year that the offensive line was going to be a strong point of this team and we had a lot of depth there, but we’ve really gotten tested there the last few weeks.”