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Sports

Football: Man in the Middle – Ben Melion an anchor for stout Dukes' 'D'

York, off to 2-1 start, hosts Glenbard West in Silver showdown

York's Daniel Pierotti (22) and Clayton Letourneau (10) tackle Lyons Township's Leo Hangsterfer in Western Springs on Sept. 7.
York's Daniel Pierotti (22) and Clayton Letourneau (10) tackle Lyons Township's Leo Hangsterfer in Western Springs on Sept. 7.

Ben Melion makes no bones about his role on York's defense.

Keep the hands off Zane Heemsoth.

"We have our D1 linebacker [Heemsoth], and I try to do my job, to not let them touch him, try to let him make a play," said Melion, York's senior defensive tackle. "If I get a chance, I'm going to make a play myself."

Heemsoth, the Dukes' heavily-recruited middle linebacker, made plays all over the field in York's last game, a 28-0 win over Lyons Township. The Dukes held LT without a first down until late in the third quarter.

Give Melion an assist.

The 6-foot-1, 245-pounder is the guy who takes up space, takes on double teams and frees up Heemsoth and York's linebackers to fly to the football.

It's added up to two straight shutouts, and a 2-1 start for the Dukes.

"Ben does a lot of things that statistically you don't see," York coach Mike Fitzgerald said. "He's got a high motor, his energy is contagious, he makes guys around him better. We have another defensive tackle who is a junior, Chris Eckard. Ben has really been a mentor to him."

Melion indeed is a good guy to learn from.

Promoted to varsity at the start of his sophomore year, Melion was starting at defensive tackle by the second week. Melion and Heemsoth, good buddies and teammates, have both been together for three years on the York defense.

"Learned a lot playing behind those guys, seeing how they prepare," Melion said.

He also learned from older brother Grant, also a three-year starter who graduated in 2018. It was an interesting dynamic in practice, though, as Grant was a running back.

"It was a little interesting to say the least," Melion said. "Practice, that was where the jawing came in."

Melion is, to be sure, not afraid of being vocal. He tries to forge the mindset in his teammates that nobody can beat them, but he also tries to keep them level-headed.

There is certainly excitement around York, whose last winning season was 2011.

"Especially with this week, Glenbard West, one of our rivals coming in," Melion said. "Last week gave us a lot of confidence."

Fitzgerald, who has had success installing his new up-tempo offense in his first season in Elmhurst, knew he had a strong defense to lean on.

The Dukes returned seven defensive starters. Fitzgerald didn't make many changes, didn't put in new terminology or new language.

"I think that continuity has helped us," Fitzgerald said. "It's a tight-knit group."

One tweak was moving Don Kasper from defensive line coach to offensive line coach, and bringing aboard Matt Anderson – who played defensive end at Northwestern – to help with the defensive line.

"It's been good for our offensive line and defensive line," Fitzgerald said. "[Anderson] is a pretty successful business guy who moved into the area last year, and kind of fell into our lap. He helped with the freshmen last year, and me and him hit it off."

"You can tell that he knows what he is talking about, people listen when he's talking," Melion said. "He has a great way of teaching and understanding how we think."

Right now, Glenbard West is front and center on the Dukes' minds.

The Hilltoppers (2-1) have won at least a share of every Silver title since 2008.

"It's going to be a battle, plain and simple," Melion said. "We are all focused. It's been one of our best practices of the season."

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