If you’re wondering if the Highland Park Giants are hungry, just ask senior Eli Secher and his family.
Secher has hosted the team’s linemen — offensive and defensive — for barbecues and the proof is on the plates.
“We go through a lot of food,” said Secher, who added the gatherings build more than just body mass. They serve as team-building moments for a senior-heavy group that won’t be satisfied with anything less than a playoff berth.
The Giants recorded their fourth straight 4-5 season in 2022 (not counting the shortened 2021-’22 spring campaign), each year finishing a game short of playoff qualification. Secher and company have bonded over the heartbreak for two of those seasons.
With three-year varsity starters all over the field, Secher said they are coming in ready.
“I’m excited — real excited,” he said. “All the guys in our class who have two years of varsity experience, we are ready for our final year.”
Last season, Highland Park began the season 2-0 and advanced to 4-3. It could not secure a win in either of its final two games (Vernon Hills, Maine West) and finished on the outside of the IHSA postseason.
Second-year head coach Anthony Kopp hopes with multiple years of varsity play under their belts, his leaders will be ready for the spotlight.
“You certainly can hope and expect that the experience they’ve had, their experience playing varsity ball steps up,” he said. “And just confidence. They worked very hard in the weight room in the offseason. They look bigger, they feel a little confidence because of that. I’m looking for that to come through.”
Senior David Finfer enters third year under center for the Giants.
Secher mans a senior offensive line that includes fellow All-Conference standout Alex Knight. They will block for three-year varsity returners David Finfer (quarterback) and Nikko Rosenbloom (running back).
Finfer was also all-league after throwing for nearly 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns, while rushing for 180 yards and 4 more TDs. Rosenbloom gained 530 total yards with 5 touchdowns. Star receiver Nick Blumer (46 catches, 653 yards, 6 TDs) leads an experienced group that includes senior Johnny Walker and sophomore Lucas Gordon, who saw varsity time as a freshman.
Kopp said the returners will enable a balanced offensive attack.
“Offensively, we can throw with David Finfer and we have some skill players around him,” Kopp said. “And we have a senior line. We feel good about running behind them, too. A lot of seniors. There will be times where there are 11 seniors are out there on the field.”
Many Highland Park standouts play both sides of the football. Blumer will return as a starting defensive back, where he intercepted four passes and recovered two fumbles in 2022.
Walker and Rosenbloom will also man the defensive backfield, along with senior Asher Stern.
Middle linebacker Tyler Gleyzer is the anchor of the defensive unit. He racked up 32 tackles (8 for loss) in an injury-shortened junior season (6 games). Sebastian Vrybal, also the team’s placekicker, will play outside linebacker for the Giants.
Seniors Knight and Josh Pasternak return to the defensive line.
“Defensively we have some playmakers behind that can go up and get balls. We have some ‘backers and D-linemen who are tough and gonna stop runs,” Kopp said.
The Giants open the 2023 campaign with a road tilt against Leyden, a team they beat with a comeback effort to open the ’22 season
Then, it’s rivalry week, as Highland Park welcomes Deerfield to Wolters Field on Friday, Sept. 1. The Warriors and Giants are no longer in the same conference — Deerfield crossed over to the Central Suburban South — but the competition will continue.
As a league tradeoff, the Giants will host former CSL South team Niles West in Week 7, Oct. 6.
Rolling Meadows and Conant round out Highland Park’s nonconference schedule, while CSL North foes Maine West (Sept. 22), Niles North (Sept. 29), Maine East (Oct. 13) and Vernon Hills (Oct. 20) complete the 2023 slate for the Giants.
Highland Park wants its shot at the CSL North crown and in doing so, Kopp said, “everything will take care of itself including making the playoffs.”
HIGHLAND PARK 2023 SCHEDULE (2022: 4-5)
|Opponent (2022 record)||Day, Date||Home/Away||Last year’s result|
|Leyden (2-7)||Friday, Aug. 23||Away||Win: 28-25|
|Deerfield (6-3)*||Friday, Sept. 1||Home||Loss: 20-0|
|Rolling Meadows (4-5)||Friday, Sept. 8||Home||N/A|
|Conant (5-4)*||Thursday, Sept. 14||Away||N/A|
|Maine West (5-4)*^||Friday, Sept. 22||Home||Loss: 34-6|
|Niles North (2-7)^||Friday, Sept. 29||Home||Win: 29-6|
|Niles West (3-6)^||Friday, Oct. 6||Home||N/A|
|Maine East (1-8)^||Friday, Oct. 13||Away||Win: 46-7|
|Vernon Hills (5-4)*^||Friday, Oct. 20||Away||Loss: 50-34|
* Playoff team. ^ Conference opponent
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