CARY – Cary-Grove had just flown past St. Patrick in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs, 49-21, and as reporters formed their customary swarm around the Trojans’ familiar stars, a new face emerged.
Kaene Connington wasn’t listed in anyone’s game stats, and indeed the senior hadn’t touched the ball even once that night, but those who had carried it insisted the press speak to him.
“After the game, [the rest of the backfield] was getting interviewed, and they made me come with them to talk with a reporter,” Connington said. “I didn’t get one carry in that game, but I blocked on every play.”
Quarterback Quinn Baker, fullback Kyle Norberg and running back Ryan Mahoney have so far amassed amazing figures for their team, which faces Crete-Monee at 1 p.m. in Champaign on Saturday for a shot at its first state title since 2009, but they credit Connington, a senior that plays an essential role in the triple-option scheme, for much of their success.
“In many ways, it’s like having another offensive lineman out there as far as a selfless attitude about doing the little things like blocking in order to free up the ball carriers,” Trojans coach Brad Seaburg said of the 5-11 running back.
When he’s not throwing blocks to hold off opposing cornerbacks, Connington is another offensive weapon for the deep Trojans (13-0). He carried the ball 41 times for 275 yards in his first season as a full-time starter and scored a pair of touchdowns.
“Not only is he a great blocker for all of us, but he can catch the ball, and he can run when he has to,” Mahoney said. “He goes a little unnoticed and that’s really not fair to him, because he definitely is one of the most important pieces of our offense.”
Connington showed potential as a junior and started when Mahoney was out with an injury, but Seaburg said he came into his own as a senior.
“He was mentally where he needed to be as far as knowing his roles and knowing where to go, but he put a lot of time in in the offseason to get himself stronger and faster, and he saw tremendous gains in his speed,” Seaburg said. “He already knew where he needed to go, he just needed to get there faster.”
For those who know Connington, his team-first attitude should come as no surprise. It’s about entering a fellowship that includes his brother Cole who started at tight end on C-G’s 2009 state championship team.
Connington’s father Craig coached he and Cole as junior Trojans, and Kaene grew up in an atmosphere swelling with C-G football pride.
Kaene watched from the stands when his brother won a state title, and Brother Cole is excited to return the favor Saturday when he will travel from Marquette University, where he goes to school.
“[Kaene winning a state title] would be such a great experience ... because we’ll both know what it’s like to be there and what a great feeling it is,” Cole said. “Kaene looked up to me because he saw just how much me and my friends loved playing the game and how we loved talking about everything.”
More than numbers and his name in print, Kaene strives to be a part of that elite group.
“I think it’s just as fun inserting and blocking than scoring touchdowns,” Kaene said. “My name doesn’t always make it into the newspaper, but I’m fine with that. As long as our team wins.”