2021 fall preview: Scouting the North Suburban Conference

Lake Zurich

2021 spring record: 3-3

Coach: Ron Planz

Worth noting: It will be interesting to see what Lake Zurich does with its quarterback situation this year. Last year, the Bears had a fairly even split between Jared Meyers and Tyler Kamins. Combined, Meyers and Kamins threw for nearly 500 yards over six games and completed 44 passes. Two of their top targets were returning wide receiver Leo Dlatt (6 catches for 137 yards) and returning tight end Aleks Popovic (9 catches for 110 yards). “Aleks was a basketball player who fell in love with football after sophomore year and is now garnering a lot of Division I and Division II interest,” Lake Zurich coach Ron Planz said. “Overall, we may lack the (individual) star power (of past teams) but we have a lot of good solid football players. This team loves playing football, putting in the work and being around each other. I am excited to see what this team can achieve this year.” ... Defensively, Lake Zurich returns four starters, including a core of three linebackers in Nick Alvey, Tyler Burkley and Ben Cooper. Alvey was one of the team leaders in tackles last spring with 26.

Libertyville

2021 spring record: 4-2

Coach: Mike Jones

Worth noting: Libertyville will be somewhat familiar, yet different at the same time. The Wildcats bring back one of their most dynamic players from last year in Connor Dickson. But instead of terrorizing defenses as a wide receiver, Dickson will be making big plays as Libertyville’s starting quarterback. Dickson was an all-conference player last season as a wide receiver but is athletic enough to make the change to quarterback seamlessly. Joining Dickson as a returning starter on offense is running back Tommy Latka, who also was an all-conference selection last spring in running for 411 yards and 4 touchdowns. Three offensive linemen, Josh Sears, David Freedman and Lucas Bruckner, also return. All three are at least 6-foot-3 and weigh at least 265 pounds. “We return four starting offensive linemen, a running back and two receivers,” Libertyville coach Mike Jones said of his offense. “We hope to have balance in our offense since we have experience in every part of our offense.” ... Defensively, Libertyville has improved its speed and has become more athletic. Five starters return on that side of the ball including three of the team’s leading tacklers in lineman Sam Pinsel and defensive backs John Stokovich and Dylan Holmes. “We will be young in some positions on our team so the quicker the young guys get up to speed, the better we will be,” Jones said. “Our team chemistry is coming together so we hope we will be prepared when adversity comes our way.”

Mundelein

2021 spring record: 1-5

Coach: Vince DeFrancesco

Worth noting: With a strong presence of returning starters on both sides of the line, Mundelein is optimistic about improvement over last spring’s 1-5 campaign. “Our players are excited about this fall journey and truly feel they have something to prove,” Mundelein coach Vince DeFrancesco said. “We return a group of very talented starters and the strength of this team will be the offensive and defensive linemen.” ... It’s also a huge boost for the Mustangs to have quarterback Brock Paluch back. The 6-foot-4 senior made a lot of big plays last spring. He’ll be protected by experienced linemen Miguel Hernandez, Raytheon Hamblin and Jake Prejna. Targets for Paluch will be returning wide receivers Drew Wellington and Nate Miller. Overall, eight starters return on offense for the Mustangs ... Meanwhile six starters return on defense, including linemen Hernandez and Hamblin, who play both ways. DeFrancesco is also excited about a sophomore class that features some players with Division I talent and size that should make immediate impacts, such as Brandon Hansen (6-foot-5, 275 pounds) and Jairus White (6-foot-5, 260 pounds). “The sophomore class is a talented class that will see significant playing time and will look to continue to build momentum and gain valuable experience,” DeFrancesco said.

Stevenson

2021 spring record: 2-4

Coach: Brent Becker

Worth noting: The Patriots seem to have the core covered. They’ve got four of five starters from the offensive line back. They’ve got four of their top tacklers back, and they have shown strong senior leadership in the offseason. “We can’t wait to get out and compete this fall,” Stevenson coach Brent Becker said. “We have a strong core of returners who gained valuable experience in the spring. Our staff has been impressed with the leadership of our seniors and we are excited to see this team play.” Lineman Jacob Whiting and linebacker Alex Zhekov each had 30 tackles apiece to lead the Patriots last season. They will lead a strong defense this season ... Senior AJ Eliot who got some reps at quarterback last year could be the starter this season. Another contender might be junior Matt Projansky. Running backs Ssuuna McKitty and Jimmy Davis both got playing time last spring in the backfield and should be more featured this season.

Warren

2021 spring record: 6-0

Coach: Bryan McNulty

Worth noting: There’s a target on the backs of the Blue Devils. They’ve been perched at the top of the North Suburban Conference for two years now. Warren went to the Class 8A state championship game in 2019 and then went a perfect 6-0 last spring. “We have to be prepared to play every week as we will get everyone’s best,” Warren coach Bryan McNulty said. “Our conference will be tough as usual. In 2019, people forget that (the NSC) had two quarterfinal teams and one state final team. It will be a heavyweight fight week in and week out.” McNulty and the Blue Devils will be led into battle by senior quarterback Aiden Lucero. Lucero was one of three quarterbacks that played regularly for Warren last year. The Blue Devils also return their top running backs in Maurice Edwards and Ben McLaughlin as well as dynamic receivers Joel Williams and Jaylin Williams. Overall, the offense returns eight starters. “Offensively, our skill kids are as fast as they’ve ever been,” McNulty said. “Defensively, we return 10 starters who can all run.” ... On defense, Warren also boasts speed, perhaps its fastest defense in recent years. That’s not good news for the Warren’s opponents. The Blue Devils already have a reputation for a top-notch defense, ranking among the state leaders in fewest points allowed per game the last two years. Last spring, Warren allowed just 27 points over six games, and that included 3 shutouts.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

  • Maurice Edwards, Warren, Running back, Senior: Edwards transferred into Warren last year and didn’t miss a beat. He’s been one of the toughest running backs in the northern suburbs. Last spring, he rolled up 732 yards and 15 touchdowns in just 6 games.
  • Connor Dickson, Libertyville, Quarterback, Senior: A dynamic player who can run and catch, and now we’ll see him throw. Dickson was a big playmaker at wide receiver last spring. Now, he’ll be running the offense for Libertyville at quarterback.
  • Aiden Lucero, Warren, Quarterback, Senior: Lucero was one of three quarterbacks who consistently got reps for Warren last spring. He is a good combination of leader, runner and thrower. He will lead one of Warren’s speediest offenses in years.
  • Tommy Latka, Libertyville, Running back, Senior: Latka will give Libertyville a balanced attack with his running while quarterback Connor Dickson can handle the aerial assault. Last year, Latka rolled up 411 yards and 4 touchdowns on 81 rushes in just 6 games.
  • Josh Sears, Libertyville, Offensive lineman, Senior: Sears is the biggest of a huge offense line for Libertyville at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds. Sears is joined by two other returning linemen, David Freedman and Lucas Bruckner who both weigh in at 265 pounds.

SCHEDULES

Lake ForestLake ZurichLibertyvilleMundelein
Week 1at St. Francis; 7:30 p.m., Aug. 27vs. Fremd; 7:30 p.m., Aug. 27vs. Carmel Catholic; 7:30 p.m., Aug. 27at Grant; 7:30 p.m., Aug. 27
Week 2vs. Carmel Catholic; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 3vs. St. Charles North; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 3at Evanston; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 3vs. Grayslake Central; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 3
Week 3vs. Stevenson; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 10at Libertyville; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 10vs. Lake Zurich; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 10at Waukegan; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 10
Week 4vs. Zion-Benton; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 17vs. Warren; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 17vs. Waukegan; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 17at Stevenson; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 17
Week 5at Waukegan; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 24at Zion-Benton; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 24at Mundelein; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 24vs. Libertyville; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 24
Week 6at Libertyville; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 1at Mundelein; 7 p.m., Oct. 1vs. Lake Forest; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 1vs. Lake Zurich; 7 p.m., Oct. 1
Week 7at Lake Zurich; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 8vs. Lake Forest; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 8at Zion-Benton; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 8vs. Warren; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 8
Week 8vs. Mundelein; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 15at Stevenson; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 15vs. Warren; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 15at Lake Forest; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 15
Week 9at Warren; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 22vs. Waukegan; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 22at Stevenson; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 22vs. Zion-Benton; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 22
StevensonWarrenWaukeganZion-Benton
Week 1vs. Maine South; 7:30 p.m., Aug. 27at Barrington; 7:30 p.m., Aug. 27vs. North Chicago; 11:30 a.m., Aug. 28vs. Stagg; 7:30 p.m., Aug. 27
Week 2at New Trier; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 3vs. Maine South; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 3at Vernon Hills; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 3vs. North Chicago; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 3
Week 3at Lake Forest; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 10at Zion-Benton; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 10vs. Mundelein; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 10vs. Warren; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 10
Week 4vs. Mundelein; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 17at Lake Zurich; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 17at Libertyville; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 17at Lake Forest; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 17
Week 5at Warren; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 24vs. Stevenson; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 24vs. Lake Forest; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 24vs. Lake Zurich; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 24
Week 6vs. Zion-Benton; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 1vs. Waukegan; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 1at Warren; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 1at Stevenson; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 1
Week 7at Waukegan; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 8at Mundelein; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 8vs. Stevenson; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 8vs. Libertyville; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 8
Week 8vs. Lake Zurich; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 15at Libertyville; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 15at Zion-Benton; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 15vs. Waukegan; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 15
Week 9vs. Libertyville; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 22vs. Lake Forest; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 22at Lake Zurich; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 22at Mundelein; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 22

FIVE CAN’T MISS MATCHUPS

Week 4 — Warren at Lake Zurich: The defensive stalwarts of the North Suburban Conference will flex their muscle in Week 4. Although, Warren put up 43 points on Lake Zurich last spring in a 43-0 win.

Week 6 — Lake Forest at Libertyville: Neighboring Libertyville and Lake Forest have considered each other rivals for years, but this contest takes on added meaning as both should be two of the top teams in the NSC this season.

Week 8 — Warren at Libertyville: Can a speedy Libertyville offense outpace a speedy Warren defense? Could be a back-and-forth affair. Warren won the battle last spring, 55-14.

Week 9 — Lake Forest at Warren: Last spring, due to the abbreviated schedule, Lake Forest and Warren did not get to play each other. The game was needed as both teams finished with perfect 6-0 records and had to share the NSC title. There’s some unfinished business to take care of here ... on both sides.

Week 9 — Libertyville at Stevenson: No matter what the circumstances and no matter what the records, this one between these longtime archrivals is always the most emotional and hotly contested game in the North Suburban Conference each season.

STEVE SOUCIE’S PREDICTED FINISH

TeamRecord
Warren9-0
Lake Forest8-1
Lake Zurich6-3
Stevenson4-5
Libertyville4-5
Mundelein2-7
Zion-Benton2-7
Waukegan0-9