Progress Report: Defensive experience gives Plainfield North solid core to build around

Tigers return 9 starters on defense following 6-win season

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The Tigers moved into the opening round of the playoffs after missing the big dance in the 2018, a rare misstep for the program that had missed the postseason just twice in the previous decade – a time frame highlighted by a Class 7A title game appearance in 2016.

Head coach: Anthony Imbordino (2nd season)

Last year's record: 6-4

Biggest Question

Is Plainfield North ready to take another step forward?

Imbordino tried to put down a foundation on which to build in 2019. That has to be considered a success, but the opening-round playoff exit – a 19-0 loss to Fremd – was a disappointment as the team failed to generate much of anything.

The Tigers took significant hits to graduation on the offensive side of the ball, but a young defense remains mostly intact. Additionally, North added the services of veteran coach Paul Murphy, who recently "retired" from the head coaching position at Waubonsie Valley. Murphy-led teams at Marmion and Waubonsie made 19 playoff appearances during his stints at those two schools. Murphy will run the offense for Imbordino.

"Last year, with me being in my first year, it was about building a rapport with the kids and I think we did that," Imbordino said. "It's just a combination of everything, Just being another year in, we were a little disappointed in a few games last year. But I think we're going to be all right this year. I think our kids are really focused and they want to do well."

Players to Watch

North's experienced core has now shifted to the other side of the football instead of where it resided a year ago as the Tigers experience is on the defensive side.

The Tigers return just two players on the offense. Senior quarterback Adam Smith threw for 1,345 yards last season but lost nearly all of his ample offensive toys to graduation, most notably speedster Marcellus Moore who now finds himself at Purdue.

The defensive unit, however, will now get the opportunity to take advantage of the fact that they grew up as a relatively young group in 2019. Nine starters return anchored by a secondary that Imbordino expects to be excellent. Danny Nuccio, also an excellent student drawing Ivy League interest, should be a bedrock the Tigers can count on. Nuccio is joined in the secondary by Jalyn Givan and Carlos Conley, two cornerbacks Imbordino is confident will have big campaigns.

"It kind of plays into our hands, with myself being a defensive kind of guy, we want our defense loaded. I tell our defensive coordinator all the time that he can take who he wants to fill those roles," Imbordino said. "We want to be known as a program that is explosive on defense, and we'll figure it out on offense."

Newcomers You Need to Know

Linebacker Will Thaete was expected to be an impact performer for the Tigers at linebacker last season as a junior, but tore his ACL early in camp and missed the entire season. He's back fully healthy and will immediately bolster an already sound core of linebackers.

Jared Gumila looks primed to step in the North backfield. Gumila, a two-time state qualifier in wrestling, and appears to fit the bill as a tough runner not scared to grind out yards between the tackles.

Imbordino is also excited for the infusion of talent he's about to add from the underclassmen ranks. This junior class has been highly successful at the freshman and junior varsity levels.

2020 Schedule Analysis

The Tigers schedule features six teams that made the playoffs last season. North won't be afforded much luxury of taking a night off. The Southwest Prairie West was stacked last year, and while the identities of the top teams on that side of the league may change, there won't be any weeks off once they enter the conference stage of the season. Although the conference did allow teams to step out of the league's mandatory crossover games, North elected not to do so (it will however indulge in 2021 with a scheduled game against DeKalb) and getting off to a good start in those first four games could be critical prior to the rigors of divisional play.

Early Take

If North can successfully rebrand itself as a defense first squad, and it appears to have the components to do so, it could be a pretty strong season for the Tigers. It will not be an easy road to a return trip to the playoffs, but if they maneuver it correctly, they could be poised to hang around for a bit.