2021 record: 3-6, 3-6 FVC (tied for seventh)
Coach: Brian Iossi (first season)
Worth noting: New coach Iossi, who was an assistant with former coach Brian Melvin, takes over as the Rockets enter their fourth season in the FVC. Melvin left to take an assistant coaching position with NAIA Judson University in Elgin. … RB Joey Kowall (6-foot, 170 pounds) is the leading returning rusher on the team with 329 yards and three touchdowns. RB Micahel Ganziano (5-9, 190) ran for 180 yards. WR Jake Herman (6-0, 155) had 14 receptions for 157 yards and two touchdowns. OLs Nick Nuno (6-1, 275), MJ Hansen (6-4, 280) and Jack Freeman (6-0, 230) have started for multiple seasons. … DL James Muetterties (6-3, 245) was an All-FVC player, and Porter Mihelich (6-1, 250) is another returning starter on the line.
LB Robbie Gall (6-0, 175) also saw a lot of action last season. LBs Zach Adamo (6-0, 190) and Mason Rosborough (6-0, 185) and DB Ryder Bergemann (5-7, 145) should be other key contributors on defense. … RB-LB Gavin Sarvis will be tough to replace after starting for three years. He was an All-Area first-team linebacker and led the team with 640 yards rushing. … “We have to do the small things correctly and make sure those are highlighted in our preparation,” Iossi said. “Blocking, tackling, ball security, discipline will be a priority for us this season. Our guys put the work in this offseason, and it shows in our size and speed, which is greatly improved.”
2021 record: 14-0, 9-0 FVC (champion, Class 6A state champion)
Coach: Brad Seaburg (12th season)
Worth noting: The Trojans are looking to make the playoffs for the 18th consecutive season. Seaburg is 110-20 in his 11 seasons as coach, and his team never has lost more than four games in a season. That has happened twice. … C-G won its third Class 6A state championship with a 37-36 victory over East St. Louis last season. The Trojans lost most of their starters off that team, but their sophomore teams always are good, and the tradition is strong.
LB Colin Desmet was an All-Area first-team selection and will slide over to fullback, a key position with the Trojans’ triple-option offense. DL Thomas Burton and LB Connor Anderson are returning starters on defense. … QB Gavin Henriques saw action late in games last season – the Trojans had a lot of big leads – and takes over as starter. Likewise, RB Alex Schuppe got some experience. … OL Colin Videtich, RB Andrew Prio, OL Brian Coles, WR Mykal Kanellakis, DL Ty Drayton, DL Logan Abrams and K Johnny Miles are other new players who should play key roles for the Trojans. … C-G’s junior varsity and freshman-sophomore teams were undefeated last season, so those players get their opportunities now on varsity. … “We have an extremely dedicated team and program,” Seaburg said. “The group of kids in the building right now are very hungry to continue the success of the program. We feel we have strong players ready to compete for starting positions, so getting guys in the right spots and letting them improve and compete early on will be important.”
Crystal Lake Central
2021 record: 8-4.
Coach: Dirk Stanger (first season)
Worth noting: Central had one of its best seasons in school history, reaching the Class 6A playoff quarterfinals for the first time since 2012. The Tigers lost to C-G, 42-21, in the quarterfinals. … After spending six seasons as Tigers offensive coordinator, Stanger takes over for Jon McLaughlin, who retired as head coach. … QB Colton Madura was the FVC Offensive Player of the Year and an All-Area first-team player. Jason Penza, who played wide receiver, played three games when Madura was injured and will take over. Penza (6-2, 185) completed 58.3% of his passes for 652 yards and has excellent speed when he takes off running. … The Tigers also have to replace RB Brent Blitek (1,135 rushing yards) and four offensive linemen.
OL Hunter Doppke (6-0, 225) and Tommy McNeil (6-0, 235) will be key on the line, while WR George Dimopoulos (6-2, 180) was second on the team with 32 catches and five touchdowns. … RB Griffin Buehler (5-10, 165) will get a lot of the carries in the backfield. Penza has good speed that should allow him to elude linemen and give him time to create. … LB Jack Blum (6-3, 200) returns as one of the defensive leaders. FS Rene Gaunaurd (5-10, 175), DT Leo Diaz (6-0, 250), DE Tony Morales (5-11, 220) and DB Vince Honer (5-10, 175) are the other top returning defensive players. … Central has a front-loaded early schedule with Huntley in the opener, followed by Jacobs, Cary-Grove and Hampshire, all playoff teams last season. … “We will be a young team with only 16 seniors,” Stanger said. “The early part of our schedule is tough, and our young players are going to have to grow up early.”
Crystal Lake South
2021 record: 5-5, 5-4 FVC (tied for fifth)
Coach: Rob Fontana (sixth season)
Worth noting: The Gators return 16 starters from a 5-5 team that lost in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs to Harlem, with the biggest loss being three-year QB Justin Kowalak, who led the area with 2,276 yards and 20 touchdowns. … WR-DB Michael Prokos (6-0, 180), RB Nate Van Witzenburg (5-11, 190), OL Nate Compere (6-4, 255) and DL Andy Burburija (6-2, 265) are some of the top returning players. Prokos caught 54 passes, second in the area, and was a Northwest Herald All-Area first-team pick on defense.
Van Witzenburg ran for 1,182 yards and returns, with Compere, for a fourth varsity season. Compere will play at NCAA Division II Lindenwood (Missouri) next season. … Burburija, Prokos and Van Witzenburg were All-FVC players. … Brady Schroeder and Caden Casimino (a transfer from Crystal Lake Central) are vying for the quarterback job. Whoever wins will have Prokos and Colton Hess (6-4, 180) as productive receivers coming back. … “We have a hardworking group that has a high football IQ and a willingness to do what they are asked,” Fontana said. “We will be looking to fill a couple of large vacancies on both sides of the ball with Justin [Kowalak] and [linebacker] Shane Moran, a three-time All-FVC player on defense.” Moran was an All-Area first-team selection.
2021 record: 0-9, 0-9 FVC
Coach: Mike Steinhaus (ninth season)
Worth noting: The Chargers have reasons for optimism after a winless season with several of their top players returning, led by RB Keegan Otte (5-8, 180) and WR-DB Henry Kennedy (5-10, 170). Otte was eighth on the area rushing list with 1,064 yards on 211 carries, and Kennedy, an All-Area second-team pick on defense, led D-C with takeaways and tackles. … Also back on offense are WR Anthony Aguilar (6-1, 180), WR Kali Freeman (6-1, 180), OL Alex Amezcua (6-3, 285), OL Porter Leith (6-1, 220) and QB Zach Randl (5-9, 160). … Kennedy and Leith also return on defense, with DB Nate Benton (5-8, 170), DB LT Norwood (5-9, 175), DL Ben Balboa (6-0, 215), LB Jack Dorman (6-0, 200), DL David Reyes (6-1, 275) and LB Jack Wheatley (5-9, 185). … Steinhaus said sophomore LB Anthony Jobe should be a strong addition and OL Rudy Rasmussen will help on the line. … “It all starts up front,” Steinhaus said. “All summer, our program has been working to be more physical. We want to play fast, physical and smart.”
2021 record: 5-5
Coach: Jake Brosman (fifth season)
Worth noting: The Whip-Purs’ toughest loss was not one to graduation, but when QB Tyler Fikis’ family moved to South Carolina over the summer. Fikis, a two-year starter, rushed for 1,145 yards and threw for 1,540 while helping Hampshire to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. He would have been a third-year starter.
Hampshire made the Class 7A playoffs and lost in the first round to Moline, 48-42. … TE-LB Gage Homola (6-4, 255), OL-DL Chris Abihudi (6-2, 285) and OL-DL Josh Rojas (5-10, 280) return on both sides for the Whip-Purs. … FB Mike Freeman (6-2, 215) and RB Tristan Villarreal (5-10, 170) also return on offense. … LB Sam Ptak (6-1, 190), S Nolan Lang (6-0, 170) and CB Bryce Bannerman (6-1, 175) are returning starters on defense. … “We have a lot of guys battling for starting positions on each side of the ball, and it has created good competition at practice,” Brosman said. “In order for us to be successful, we need to focus on the details and execute our game plans with high efficiency.”
2021 record: 3-6, 3-6 FVC (tied for seventh)
Coach: Mike Naymola (first season)
Worth noting: Huntley’s streak of six consecutive playoff appearances came to an end last season. … Naymola takes over after spending 10 years as an assistant on Huntley’s staff. … The Red Raiders’ biggest problems came on offense, where they scored 153 points, the second-lowest total in the FVC. … Huntley’s defense allowed 216 points, which was the second-best total behind Class 6A state champion Cary-Grove.
LB Deshaun Manning (6-0, 185) returns as one of the top defenders and a Northwest Herald All-Area honorable mention selection. LB Joey Arvidson (5-9, 170) and Ben Wiley (6-3, 215) are other returning starters on defense. … “Our defense has played all summer with great speed and energy, and we look forward to the challenges that the FVC will provide us each week,” Naymola said. … QB Sam Deligio (5-10, 190), OL Luke Griskey (6-5, 260) and OL Eric Bower (6-6, 265) are returning starters on offense. Naymola said Deligio has improved tremendously since last season. The Raiders will look at Haiden Janke and Zach Rios at running back. … “We want to play a much more physical brand of football with great tempo to keep defenses off balance,” Naymola said. “We have the pieces to do this. It will come down to execution, as it always does in football.”
2021 record: 8-4, 6-3 FVC (tied for third)
Coach: Brian Zimmerman (third season)
Worth noting: The Golden Eagles had one of their best seasons in school history, reaching the playoff quarterfinals for the third time in school history. They lost to Prospect, 35-21, in the Class 7A quarterfinals. … Jacobs had one of the area’s best running games with RBs Ben Ludlum (1,732) and Nasir Canty (1,366) finishing first and fourth on the area rushing list. … TEs Grant Stec (6-6, 230) and Nick True (6-5, 220) are big targets and difficult matchups.
Jacobs QB Max Benner threw for 764 yards and 12 touchdowns and may be asked to throw more this season. … RB-LB Antonio Brown (6-0, 200) got some key carries in the playoffs and will have an expanded role in the backfield, as well as playing some defense. … OL Will Seibert (6-3, 240) returns for an offense that gained 4,690 yards last season. Matt Shannon (6-0, 220) and Justin Ceisel (6-2, 215) also are back on the line. … DB Ashton Niehaus (5-10, 170) and LBs Paulie Rudolph (5-11, 215) and Joey Scrivani (6-0, 185) were All-Area second-team selections who return on defense.
2021 record: 1-8, 1-8 FVC (ninth place)
Coach: Joel Beard (first season)
Worth noting: The Warriors played a lot of close games last season but had little to show for it with their record. … Jon Niemic stepped down after four years as McHenry’s coach, and new AD Joel Beard has taken over this season as interim coach. … McHenry last made the playoffs in 2016 in Class 7A. … The Warriors have to replace some of their most productive offensive players in WR Kyle Kaempf (57 receptions led the area), QB Andrew Hoffman (1,655 passing yards for fifth in the area) and RB Brody Hallin (551 yards, now wrestling at Northern Illinois University). … WR Zack Maness (6-1, 150) had the most receptions (26) of any returning player and RB Dylan Drumheller (5-9, 160) ran for 285 yards. … Dom Caruso (6-0, 175) takes over at quarterback. … WR Jacob Zarek (5-9, 150) will be another one of Carsuso’s targets and Eli Nothdorf (6-2, 260), Max Smits (6-4, 235), John Gacek (6-7, 330) and Caleb Rezmer (5-9, 185) will be on the offensive line. … DBs Joey Crowley (5-10, 160), Jimmy LaRose (5-9, 160), Caleb Derer (5-8, 155), LBs Evan Griffiths (6-0, 195), Aiden Derer (5-8, 155), Kyle Boelkens (6-0, 180) and Lucas LaRose (6-2, 185) will have roles on defense. DL Frank Smiesko (6-3, 205) and Jesse Saavedra (6-2, 280) will be integral on the line.
2021 record: 9-3, 7-2 FVC (second place)
Coach: Chris Schremp (21st season)
Worth noting: Prairie Ridge has played in three of the past five Class 6A state championship games, winning in 2016 and 2017 and losing to East St. Louis in 2019. … Schremp’s teams are 166-61 in his 21st season and have made the playoffs in eight consecutive seasons. … QB Tyler Vasey ran for 745 yards in six games as a running back. He was supposed to start last season at QB but was injured before the season, and Mason Loucks took over and performed well.
FB Nathan Greetham rushed for 1,207 yards and 14 touchdowns and has been one of the Wolves’ hardest workers in the weight room. … OL Henrick Nystrom, Ethan Goudschaal and John Fallow (6-3, 245) return, as does RB Drake Tomasiewicz. … Five defensive players who saw considerable playing time are back, led by S Dom Creatore, a junior who played on varsity as a freshman. Victor Ebirim, Ryan Koelblinger, Logan Harlow and Ben Eschman also are back on defense. … “I really believe we will be able to score offensively, and our special teams should be solid,” Schremp said. “If we stay healthy, I look for us to compete at the top of the conference and have a nice run in the playoffs.” … Schremp also added former Woodstock North head coach Jeff Schroeder, the only coach in that program’s history, to his staff as a defensive assistant.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Colin Desmet, Cary-Grove, sr., FB: Desmet (5-8, 166) was an All-Area first-team selection at linebacker last season, when he led the Class 6A state champions with 130 tackles and had four interceptions. Now, with a team hit hard by graduation, Desmet takes over at fullback, an integral position in the Trojans’ triple-option offense. He had 13 tackles and one forced fumble in C-G’s state championship victory over East St. Louis, 37-36.
Michael Prokos, Crystal Lake South, jr., WR-DB: Prokos (6-0, 170) was an All-Area first-team selection at defensive back, where he had 58 tackles and three interceptions for the Gators. As a speedy wide receiver, he grabbed 54 passes for 916 yards and four touchdowns. South will look for him again to make an impact on both sides.
Will Seibert, Jacobs, sr., OL-DL: Seibert (6-3, 255) was part of one of the FVC’s most productive offensive lines as Golden Eagles RBs Ben Ludlum (1,732) and Nasir Canty (1,366) finished first and fourth on the area’s rushing list. An outstanding student, Seibert is looking at several high academic schools to play for next season. He also will get some repetitions on the defensive line. Seibert helped Jacobs to an 8-4 record and the Class 7A playoff quarterfinals.
Grant Stec, Jacobs, jr., TE-DE: Stec (6-6, 230) will be a third-year starter for the Golden Eagles (8-4) and was an All-Area second-team selection last season when he caught 25 passes for 438 yards and seven touchdowns. He has NCAA Division I scholarship offers from almost 30 schools, including many Big Ten Conference and Southeastern Conference schools. The run-oriented Eagles may look to throw more with Stec and 6-5 Kevin True at their tight end spots.
Tyler Vasey, Prairie Ridge, sr., QB: Vasey (5-10, 170) was supposed to be the Wolves’ quarterback to start last season but suffered an elbow injury and missed six games. He still ran for 745 yards and nine touchdowns in Prairie Ridge’s last six games as a running back. He averaged 14.3 yards a carry. Vasey may be the area’s fastest player and should be a dynamic threat running the Wolves’ triple-option offense. He was an All-Area honorable mention pick.
|Burlington Central||Cary-Grove||Crystal Lake Central||Crystal Lake South||Dundee-Crown|
|Week||at Hampshire; 7 p.m., Aug. 26||at Dundee-Crown; 7 p.m., Aug. 26||vs. Huntley; 7 p.m., Aug. 26||vs. Jacobs; 7 p.m., Aug. 26||vs. Cary-Grove; 7 p.m., Aug. 26|
|Week 2||vs. Prairie Ridge; 7 p.m., Sept. 2||vs. CL South; 7 p.m., Sept. 2||at Jacobs; 7 p.m., Sept. 2||at Cary-Grove; 7 p.m., Sept. 2||at Hampshire; 7 p.m., Sept. 2|
|Week 3||at Dundee-Crown; 7 p.m., Sept. 9||at CL Central; 7 p.m., Sept. 9||vs. Cary-Grove; 7 p.m., Sept. 9||vs. Hampshire; 7 p.m., Sept. 9||vs. Burlington Cent.; 7 p.m., Sept. 9|
|Week 4||vs. Huntley; 7 p.m., Sept. 16||vs. McHenry; 1 p.m., Sept. 17||at Hampshire; 7 p.m., Sept. 16||at Dundee-Crown; 7 p.m., Sept. 16||vs. CL South; 7 p.m., Sept. 16|
|Week 5||at CL South; 7 p.m., Sept. 23||at Prairie Ridge; 7 p.m., Sept. 23||vs. Dundee-Crown; 7 p.m., Sept. 23||vs. Burlington Cent.; 7 p.m., Sept. 23||at CL Central; 7 p.m., Sept. 23|
|Week 6||vs. Jacobs; 7 p.m., Sept. 30||vs. Huntley; 7 p.m., Sept. 30||at CL South; 7 p.m., Sept. 30||vs. CL Central; 7 p.m., Sept. 30||vs. McHenry; 7 p.m., Sept. 30|
|Week 7||at CL Central; 7 p.m., Oct. 7||at Jacobs; 7 p.m., Oct. 7||vs. Burlington Cent.; 7 p.m., Oct. 7||at McHenry; 7 p.m., Oct. 7||at Prairie Ridge; 7 p.m., Oct. 7|
|Week 8||vs. Cary-Grove; 7 p.m., Oct. 14||at Burlington Cent.; 7 p.m., Oct. 14||vs. McHenry; 7 p.m., Oct. 14||vs. Prairie Ridge; 7 p.m., Oct. 14||vs. Huntley; 7 p.m., Oct. 14|
|Week 9||at McHenry; 7 p.m., Oct. 21||vs. Hampshire; 7 p.m., Oct. 21||at Prairie Ridge; 7 p.m.; Oct. 21||at Huntley; 7 p.m., Oct. 21||at Jacobs; 7 p.m., Oct. 21|
|Week 1||vs. Burlington Cent.; 7 p.m., Aug. 26||at CL Central; 7 p.m., Aug. 26||at CL South; 7 p.m., Aug. 26||vs. Prairie Ridge; 7 p.m., Aug. 26||at McHenry; 7 p.m., Aug. 26|
|Week 2||vs. Dundee-Crown; 7 p.m., Sept. 2||vs. McHenry; 7 p.m., Sept. 2||vs. CL Central; 7 p.m., Aug. 26||at Huntley; 7 p.m., Sept. 2||at Burlington Cent.; 7 p.m., Sept. 2|
|Week 3||at CL South; 7 p.m., Sept. 16||at Prairie Ridge; 7 p.m., Sept. 9||at McHenry; 7 p.m., Sept. 9||vs. Jacobs; 7 p.m., Sept. 9||vs. Huntley; 7 p.m., Sept. 9|
|Week 4||vs. CL Central; 7 p.m., Sept. 23||at Burlington Cent.; 7 p.m., Sept. 16||vs. Prairie Ridge; 7 p.m., Sept. 16||at Cary-Grove; 1 p.m., Sept. 17||at Jacobs; 7 p.m., Sept. 16|
|Week 5||at McHenry; 7 p.m., Sept. 30||vs. Jacobs; 7 p.m., Sept. 23||at Huntley; 7 p.m., Sept. 23||vs. Hampshire; 7 p.m., Sept. 23||vs. Cary-Grove; 7 p.m., Sept. 23|
|Week 6||vs. Prairie Ridge; 7 p.m., Sept. 30||at Cary-Grove; 7 p.m., Sept. 30||at Burlington Cent.; 7 p.m., Sept. 30||at Dundee-Crown; 7 p.m., Sept. 30||at Hampshire; 7 p.m., Sept. 30|
|Week 7||at Huntley; 7 p.m., Oct. 7||vs. Hampshire; 7 p.m., Oct. 7||vs. Cary-Grove; 7 p.m., Oct. 7||vs. CL South; 7 p.m., Oct. 7||vs. Dundee-Crown; 7 p.m., Oct. 7|
|Week 8||vs. Jacobs; 7 p.m., Oct. 14||at Dundee-Crown; 7 p.m.; Oct. 14||at Hampshire; 7 p.m., Oct. 14||at CL Central; 7 p.m., Oct. 14||at CL South; 7 p.m., Oct. 14|
|Week 9||at Cary-Grove; 7 p.m., Oct. 21||vs. CL South; 7 p.m.; Oct. 21||vs. Dundee-Crown; 7 p.m., Oct. 21||vs. Burlington Cent.; 7 p.m., Oct. 21||vs. CL Central; 7 p.m., Oct. 21|
FIVE CAN’T-MISS MATCHUPS
Week 1 – Huntley at Crystal Lake Central: The opener set the tone for both teams’ seasons last year when Central won at Huntley. The Tigers went on to finish 8-4 and advance to the Class 6A playoff quarterfinals; the Red Raiders struggled all season and finished 3-6, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2014. Huntley will be looking for a much better start.
Week 4 – Prairie Ridge at Jacobs: These two played one of the most entertaining games of the season, a 49-48 Prairie Ridge victory when the Wolves stopped a late 2-point conversion try. The Golden Eagles are loaded, and the Wolves again look like one of the FVC’s top teams, so this should be a pivotal FVC game.
Week 5 – Cary-Grove at Prairie Ridge: A tough back-to-back run for Prairie Ridge, facing the defending Class 6A state champions one week after Jacobs. C-G lost the majority of its starters to graduation, but when these two get together, it’s usually a tough game between two of the FVC’s best.
Week 6 – Crystal Lake Central at Crystal Lake South: Both teams made the Class 6A playoffs last season, and the Tigers, who beat South, 42-37, have won the past three matchups. This game likely will have some influence on playoff positioning for both Central and South.
Week 7 – Cary-Grove at Jacobs: Jacobs gave the FVC champion Trojans their closest game until the state championship, a 37-36 win over East St. Louis, with a 36-22 loss in Week 7. The Golden Eagles last beat C-G in 2013, 36-35, and this may be their best shot at getting them since then.
STEVE SOUCIE’S PREDICTED FINISH
|Crystal Lake South||6-3|
|Crystal Lake Central||4-5|