2019 record: 7-5, Class 6A quarterfinals
Coach: Chuck Spagnoli (18th season)
Worth noting: Lake Forest went just 5-4 during the regular season last year, but wound up being one of the North Suburban Conference’s most successful team in the postseason. The Scouts advanced to the Class 6A quarterfinals before losing a squeaker to Deerfield, 21-20.
2019 record: 8-4, Class 7A quarterfinals
Coach: Ron Planz (2nd season)
Worth noting: As usual, defense will be the focal point at Lake Zurich, which has become known for its tough, gritty, stingy defense over the years. The Bears will be led by linebacker Bryan Sanborn, who will be playing college ball next year at Wisconsin with his older brother Jack, also a former star linebacker at Lake Zurich. The younger Sanborn had 108 tackles in 2019. Lineman Andy Amoroso and defensive back Kyle Forbes also give the defense experience. “We bring more back on defense than we do on offense, but the familiarity with the scheme should help our offense overcome some early growing pains,” said Planz, who is hoping his players will feel more comfortable with his system in its second year. The offense will be focused on running back Jack Dwyer, who had 646 yards and 8 touchdowns last season. Veteran offensive lineman Bennett Haidu helped pave the way to 2,356 team rushing yards in 2019.
2019 record: 5-5, Class 7A first round
Coach: Mike Jones (9th season)
Worth noting: Libertyville squeaked into the playoffs last year but returns some key players from that team, starting with quarterback Blake Ellingson. The senior, who is also a standout in basketball and will need to transition quickly from the hardwood to the gridiron, threw for 1,687 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2019. He also rushed for 605 yards. Matt Brenner, a senior running back will add to the Wildcats’ ground game. He averaged 7 yards per rush last season. “Offensively, we need to possess and run the football to create chunk plays,” Jones said. “Defensively, we need to be more consistent than a year ago and more fundamentally sound.” The defense will be anchored by linebacker Trace Batesky, who rolled up 47 tackles and 3 sacks last year. Senior lineman Joey Neal, who was injured in 2019, also returns.
2019 record: 2-7
Coach: Vince DeFrancesco (2nd season)
Worth noting: Experience should be a big asset for the Mustangs, who welcome back 15 returning starters from 2019. “We return a very talented senior class,” DeFrancesco said. “We will have a very veteran team. With various talented receivers and a strong backfield, we look to enter the season with a very balanced offensive attack.” Returning quarterback Brock Paluch will have a strong group of skill position players to work with in fullback Rudy Osornio, a 3-year starter and all-conference pick in 2019, Shawn Patrick, last year’s leading rusher with more than 600 yards and 8 touchdowns, wide receiver Syam Atade, who led the team in receptions and receiving yards, and Omari Rhinehart, who can make plays both as a running back and a wide receiver. Defensively, Mundelein features two players who have already made college commitments, linebacker Alex Wing (Rochester) and defensive back Deangelo McClellan (Aurora). Joey Foreman and Luke Pietrusiecicz will also be key defensive players. “We are very talented on defense and have a veteran linebacker corps,” DeFrancesco said.
2019 record: 4-5
Coach: Brent Becker (2nd season)
Worth noting: The Patriots are excited to get the chance to have a season this year because they are anxious to right the ship after last year. After 30 straight years of making the playoffs, Stevenson missed the playoffs last year, coming up one win short. The offense will be keyed by three seniors, quarterback Liam Crawley, and wide receivers Jayden McFadden and Tristian Moskovic. Crawley, who will be playing next year at Augustana, passed for 591 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2019. McFadden, who will be playing next year at Roosevelt, caught 26 passes for 467 yards “I’m thrilled for all of the seniors that they will have a senior season they deserve,” Becker said. Defensively, Stevenson will be anchored by linebacker Danny Orgler, who will be moving on to play at Butler. Orgler had 44 tackles and 5 sacks last season.
2019 record: 13-1, Class 8A state runner-up
Coach: Bryan McNulty (7th season)
Worth noting: Assumptions can be dangerous. Especially when you’re talking about the defending Class 8A state runner-up. “People assume we lost a lot through graduation, but not as much as you would think,” McNulty said. “We have a lot of game experience back and a lot of kids who got a lot better during the offseason. We will be young, but hungry.” The Blue Devils were hungry to take that next step this season, and win a state championship. But since there will be no state playoffs, they’ll have to settle for running the table during this short six-week season. But, that won’t be easy. “Our conference is as good as it’s ever been,” McNulty said. “In 2019, we had three teams in the quarterfinals or beyond. In the NSC, it’s an uphill battle every week.” The Warren defense will be a focal point, led by North Dakota commit Malachi McNeal at linebacker. He’s a three-year starter. Also back are lineman Tommy Matheson, a Princeton commit, and cornerback Marc Davila, a Northwest Missouri commit. The offense will be led by returning quarterback Phil Hird, who has committed to Olivet Nazarene. He’s been a three-year starter at Warren. Move-in running back Maurice Edwards rushed for 1,200 yards last year at Grayslake Central. The line will be anchored by Gus Krnich, who has committed to Roosevelt University and started all 14 games in 2019.
2019 record: 0-9
Coach: Jonathan Hadnott (4th season)
Worth nothing: Waukegan is out to get on the winning side of the ledger after going winless in 2019. The Bulldogs managed just 34 points over the course of the entire season and were shut out six times.
2019 record: 3-6
Coach: Cristo Garza (2nd season)
Worth noting: It’s a youth movement at Zion-Benton with 15 of 22 starters being either juniors or sophomores. “Despite being a young team, the expectations are high with a core of our seniors being in key positions,” Garza said. One of those core seniors is quarterback Erik Franklin, a two-year starter. Franklin will be working with a group of explosive skill-position players such as wide receivers Deyonte Dowdell and Tra’Don Jones and running back La’Zarius Gaeter. “All of them have the potential to turn a 5-yard play into an explosive play that is worthy of a highlight film,” Garza said. Defensively, linebackers Noah Tyler and Jerimiah Mullen are returning starters.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
- Bryan Sanborn, Lake Zurich, LB, sr.: Sanborn is following his older brother Jack to Wisconsin to continue the family’s linebacker tradition there. He had more than 100 tackles last year.
- Malachi McNeal, Warren, LB, sr.: McNeal is a three-year starter for one of the best defenses in the suburbs. He’ll be playing at North Dakota next year.
- Tommy Matheson, Warren, DL, sr.: Matheson has got the brawn, and the brains. Matheson, 6-foot-4, 275 pounds and a starter in every game last season, will be playing at Princeton next year.
- Blake Ellingson, Libertyville, QB, sr.: Also a basketball standout, Ellingson is a multifaceted threat in football, too. He rushed for more than 600 yards and passed for nearly 1,700 yards last season.
- Jayden McFadden, Stevenson, WR, sr.: A big playmaker, McFadden is Stevenson’s leading returning receiver with 26 receptions and 467 yards last season. He’ll be playing at Roosevelt next year.
|Lake Forest||Lake Zurich||Libertyville||Mundelein||Stevenson||Warren||Waukegan||Zion-Benton|
|Week 1||vs. Lake Zurich; 5 p.m., March 19||at Lake Forest; 5 p.m., March 19||vs. Mundelein; 5 p.m., March 19||at Libertyville; 5 p.m., March 19||vs. Waukegan; 5 p.m., March 19||at Zion-Benton; 5 p.m., March 19||at Stevenson; 5 p.m., March 19||vs. Warren; 5 p.m., March 19|
|Week 2||at Mundelein; 5 p.m., March 26||vs. Libertyville; 5 p.m., March 26||at Lake Zurich; 5 p.m., March 26||vs. Lake Forest; 5 p.m., March 26||at Warren; 5 p.m., March 26||vs. Stevenson; 5 p.m., March 26||vs. Zion-Benton; 5 p.m., March 26||at Waukegan; 5 p.m., March 26|
|Week 3||vs. Libertyville; 7:30 p.m., April 1||vs. Mundelein; 7:30 p.m., April 1||at Lake Forest; 7:30 p.m., April 1||at Lake Zurich; 7:30 p.m., April 1||vs. Zion-Benton; 7:30 p.m., April 1||at Waukegan; 7:30 p.m., April 1||vs. Warren; 7:30 p.m., April 1||at Stevenson; 7:30 p.m., April 1|
|Week 4||at Zion-Benton; 7:30 p.m., April 9||at Warren; 7:30 p.m., April 9||vs. Stevenson; 7:30 p.m., April 9||vs. Waukegan; 7:30 p.m., April 9||at Libertyville; 7:30 p.m., April 9||vs. Lake Zurich; 7:30 p.m., April 9||at Mundelein; 7:30 p.m., April 9||vs. Lake Forest; 7:30 p.m., April 9|
|Week 5||at Stevenson; 7:30 p.m., April 16||at Waukegan; 7:30 p.m., April 16||vs. Zion-Benton; 7:30 p.m., April 16||vs. Warren; 7:30 p.m., April 16||vs. Lake Forest; 7:30 p.m., April 16||at Mundelein; 7:30 p.m., April 16||vs. Lake Zurich; 7:30 p.m., April 16||at Libertyville; 7:30 p.m., April 16|
|Week 6||vs. Waukegan; 7:30 p.m., April 23||vs. Stevenson; 7:30 p.m., April 23||at Warren; 7:30 p.m., April 23||at Zion-Benton; 7:30 p.m., April 23||at Lake Zurich; 7:30 p.m., April 23||vs. Libertyville; 7:30 p.m., April 23||at Lake Forest; 7:30 p.m., April 23||vs. Mundelein; 7:30 p.m., April 23|
FIVE CAN’T MISS MATCHUPS
Week 1 — Lake Zurich at Lake Forest: Lake Zurich was in the midst of a four-game winning streak when it handily defeated Lake Forest by 32 points (39-7) in Week 4. But Lake Forest went on to finish strong and advance to the Class 6A quarterfinals.
Week 2 — Libertyville at Lake Zurich ... but a close second is Stevenson at Warren: It was a dramatic game last year between Libertyville and Lake Zurich as Libertyville scored on a touchdown pass by Blake Ellingson with about eight minutes remaining. But then Lake Zurich got a field goal that hit the crossbar and went in from Jack Rigby with three minutes left to win the game ... Stevenson and Warren are always two of the best teams in the North Suburban Conference.
Week 3 — Libertyville at Lake Forest: Lake Forest went 7-5 last year and advanced to the Class 6A quarterfinals for a successful postseason run, but one of its stumbles along the way was to Libertyville. The Scouts will be looking to avenge its 23-10 loss in Week 8.
Week 4 — Lake Zurich at Warren ... but a close second is Stevenson at Libertyville: Lake Zurich was a quarterfinal team last year but Warren shut down the Bears on its way to a 24-3 win in Week 7. The Bears might have a bit of a chip on their shoulders for this one ... Stevenson versus Libertyville is one of the biggest rivalries around, and has been for years.
Week 5 — Lake Forest at Stevenson: A close-shave 28-27 win over Stevenson last year in Week 9 gave Lake Forest momentum for a run into the quarterfinals of the playoffs. That Week 9 loss also kept Stevenson out of the playoffs.
Week 6 — Libertyville at Warren ... but a close second is Lake Zurich at Stevenson: Libertyville has a score to settle. Last year, Warren dealt the Wildcats a stinging 34-0 shutout in Week 4 ... The Lake Zurich-Stevenson rivalry between neighboring schools is always a good one. Last year, Lake Zurich got a close 28-20 win over the Patriots in Week 5.
STEVE SOUCIE’S PREDICTED FINISH