Naperville Central Sophomores Lead the Charge on the Gridiron

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The Naperville Central Football Team enters the 2022-23 with many news faces including six who are strapping up for only the second time and the first as varsity members.

With the Illinois high school football season hitting postseason this week, Naperville Central is no stranger to the playoffs by making a seventh playoff appearance in the last ten seasons. This year’s Redhawks team was full of new faces on the varsity roster but the new upperclassmen leaders combined with six fresh faced newcomers to help the Redhawks reach the 8A playoffs once again. Sophomores Nick Zbylut, Gavin Wade, Daniel Conway, Connor Sands and the Nussbaum twins, Aaron and Daniel each played pivotal roles on the varsity team this season.

“It’s a big deal to realize that you’re all coming up from the sophomore team leaving all your friends behind to join a new group of kids. To be able to make an impact with all six of us it’s a really great thing.”

“We’ve all been playing with each other since we were little and playing with each other through sophomore year when we all got brought up it’s just a great thing and to be able to have friends on the team that you’ve been friends with forever it’s easy to just play with and do good with each other.”

Redhawk Sophomores Breaking the Mold

Traditionally, teams that play this many underclassmen do so out of desperation or lower roster numbers. Sometimes players will get called up onto varsity late in the year after starting the season on the sophomore team. However, this group of sophomores have earned their varsity playing time since day one with talent and dedication to the Redhawk program. The six underclassmen went 8-1 in their freshman campaign last fall, so they knew that the winning mentality developed a season ago would be vitally important when they stepped into a varsity role. 

“Coming off last year we know we can win and we just bring all of our physicality and our effort to the varsity level and it’s helped us a lot.”

“We were all confident playing down with the freshman we just dominated and the varsity coaches saw that. They saw our potential and they believed in us which meant a lot and we believed in ourselves.”

The Nussbaum boys play on both sides of the ball and are also the youngest sons of legendary Redhawk coach Andy Nussbaum, growing up in a household full of athletes. Gavin Wade plays linebacker and also scored the Hawks first touchdown of the season while Zbylut plays as a defensive back. Sands and Conway both play in the trenches with Connor on the O-line and Daniel on the defensive front. The boys were excited to get that opportunity in just their first season in the varsity Redhawk uniform, realizing that playing alongside upperclassmen would help advance their gameplay.

“Their leadership skills are very important to me and I’ve learned a lot from them this past year and they’ve helped me become a better athlete and a better football player.”

It has been a long time since Naperville Central saw this many sophomores not only on the roster, but playing key roles. While the Hawks are hoping for another deep run in the playoffs, these young standouts will still have two seasons to go, providing a lot of excitement about the future of Central football. 

“Now that I’ve seen that we can play at the varsity level for the next couple I think we’ll be successful because of our connection with each other. In the offseason we’ve been lifting together all week everyday and we’ve been sticking together throughout the whole season and offseason and trying to get ourselves better.”

For Naperville Sports Weekly, I’m Patrick Codo.