Will Ebert and Alex Knaperek Help Lead the Charge
For all the well deserved praise showered on the North Central rushing attack, none of that success is possible without the work of offensive linemen like Will Ebert and Alex Knaperek. A senior and freshman, respectively, they had very different perspectives on this most recent Cardinals victory given that it was Senior Day, as particularly emphasis was placed on players like Ebert in their fifth year’s on campus.
“It meant a lot, to me especially but to all of us,” Ebert said of him and his fellow seniors being honored. “We’ve taken this program to where we wanted it to go, we’ve all put so much into it. To see how much it’s grown through us, we’re really happy with how we’re moving this program forward.”
“They’ve taken us in and created a family, letting us know we’re welcome and part of a brotherhood,” said Knaperek. “They’ve made it really easy to transition from high school to college, and playing for them makes it easy to go out there and put everything you have on the line and fight your hardest.”
Of the six players who have been part of the starting offensive line this season, Ebert is the only senior. But rather than him being on any pedestal due to that experience, he says the group succeeds by leading as a unit rather than looking to be led by an individual.
“We kind of lead together as a unit,” said Ebert. “As an offensive lineman you can have experience and help motivate, but it’s really just five guys working together. I don’t take ownership or leadership of the group, there’s a collective leadership.”
Alex Knaperek may be new to the team this season, but he certainly isn’t new to North Central football. It’s been a big part of his life for now over a decade, and he’s fit right in to a team he’s wanted to be a part of for years.
“I was just eight years old when I attended my first North Central game, and then after that going to all the games for the next for year I knew I wanted to be a Cardinal,” said Knaperek, whose older brother Eric is one of the best lineman in program history. “He just tells me to go out there, kick butt, put it all on the line and one day you might make it big and become a captain.”
Running for Fun
Returning to the Cardinals running game, those star rushers like seniors Ethan Greenfield and Terrence Hill have developed a great relationship with the offensive line in a push for each other both to be better and to celebrate each other’s accomplishments.
“It’s a lot of fun, especially with how fast these guys are,” Ebert said. “Greeny, the speed I’ve seen from him this year I haven’t seen before and it really shows the work he puts in to every offseason to get faster and always find a way to improve his game. As an offensive line, you feel like as soon as we open up a nice hole no one is catching those guys; they’re gone. When you break a 40-plus yard run, as soon as I say an opening I know ‘ok, that’s a touchdown.'”
“When they have the long runs, you’re blocking your guy and you look up and they’re just running in the open field,” added Knaperek.
The only starting offensive lineman from last year who did not return for 2022 was Sharmore Clarke, who won the last three CCIW Offensive Lineman of the Year awards and was replaced this year by Knaperek. But Clarke has stuck around after graduation as a coach, where is impact on the program has continued.
“It’s been great to have him around, he’s such a nice guy and knows what he’s talking about,” Knaperek said of Clarke. “It was definitely kind of nerve-racking to fill such a big spot. So I was definitely nervous, but he guided me through camp… and I’m glad to have him around.”
“I lived with Sharmore, he’s one of my closest friends,” Ebert said. “I played next to him for the first three years of my career, and it was a little weird this year not having him out there next to me just because we had such good chemistry and connection. But having him at practice and having his wisdom, it’s nice to have the offensive line perspective in the coaching room.”
Ebert is well familiar with what comes next for the Cardinals entering the playoffs, while for Knaperek it’s another new experience. Ebert and his fellow upperclassmen will be charged with imparting wisdom gained through multiple previous trips all the way to the end.
“The thing that’s worked every year for us is we’ve gotta take this one week at a time,” said Ebert. “You like to look ahead and try to plan what’s gonna happen in the bracket, but you cant do that. We’ve got Lake Forest this week, we want to play as well as we can, we want to get a win, and it’s win or go home. This is my last go-round, and you’ve gotta treat every game like it’s your last, play your heart out and take it one week at a time.”
“I’m most excited just to play more football and keep the season going,” said Knaperek. “Lake Forest they have a great defense, so I’m excited for a challenge to see what our offensive line can do.”