Omaha Gross teammates Zach Johnk and Anthony Vigneri each went through a growth spurt since last season that wasn’t about physical size.
For Johnk, it was becoming a more complete quarterback in a position that was relatively new for him. For Vigneri, it was becoming a more physical player as a running back and linebacker.
“They’re both pretty special kids,’’ said Gross coach Tim Johnk, who’s the quarterback’s father.
Following a 12-1 season that culminated in the school’s first state football championship, Zach Johnk and Vigneri are the honorary captains of The World-Herald’s All-Omaha Area football team.
The younger Johnk, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior, was a 67-percent passer who threw for 1,146 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“He put in a lot of time and made a huge improvement in his game from junior to senior year,’’ his father said. “That work ethic and leadership carried over to his teammates.”
Zach, who hadn’t played quarterback except for his first year of youth football, shifted there from wide receiver for his junior year. The Cougars struggled to 3-6.
“To see him embrace that adversity and use it as motivation to get better showed a lot of maturity on his part,’’ coach Johnk said. “He worked hard to play the position and the production he had this season was very rewarding for himself.
“I never pushed him. It’s something he wanted.”
Vigneri, a 6-foot, 185-pound junior, ran for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaged seven yards a carry and was the team’s leading tackler for the second consecutive year.
“Anthony’s extremely gifted,’’ coach Johnk said. “He plays the game so hard and has a tremendous work ethic. His ability and leadership raise the level of everybody around him.”
It’s often difficult for sophomores to show their toughness and physicality because of some uncertainties stemming from their youth, the coach said. Vigneri developed into a north-south runner and made an easy transition from outside linebacker to inside linebacker.
“We wanted to put him in the middle, so people couldn’t run away from him,’’ coach Johnk said. “That move worked out pretty well.”
Both of the Cougars are on the honor team’s offensive unit. The receivers are Jaden Boudle of Fort Calhoun and Jake Goltl of Ralston. Offensive linemen are Travis Maddux of Plattsmouth, Jesse O’Dell of Elkhorn, Chad Bertagni of Gross and Tanner Evans and Zach Stover of Gretna.
Johnk is the quarterback, with Vigneri, Jordan Kann of Fort Calhoun and Tanner Bailey the backs. Platteview place-kicker Payton Fluckey is the only repeat selection.
On defense are Evan Ramsey of Omaha Skutt, Zach Flott of Ralston, Joe Coenen of Gross and Cal Griencewic of Elkhorn South as linemen, Colin Mertlik of Blair, Chris Weber of Elkhorn and Brady Radik of Gretna as linebackers, Jake Sievers of Skutt, Nate Zimmerer of Gross, Phil Hertel of Plattsmouth and Andy Chleborad of Ralston as defensive backs and Plattsmouth’s Nolan Siemonsma as the punter.
Players from 10 schools made the team, chosen through observations of the sports staff and nominations by high school coaches.