Analysis | Friday Night Drive

2022 Suburban Life area preview capsules for Week 1

Nonconference games

Hinsdale Central (9-2 last season) at Naperville Central (7-4)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: Naperville Central 14, Hinsdale Central 2 (2021)

About the Red Devils: Five starters return on offense and six on defense for a Hinsdale Central program that went unbeaten in the West Suburban Silver for the second year in a row and reached the playoff’s second round. Senior QB Billy Cernugel, who led the Red Devils to nine straight wins last season, is back. It remains to be seen if there is a QB rotation with Ben Monahan, who started the Week 1 game with Naperville Central last season but tore his ACL in the game. Whoever is at the controls will have talent outside in Carter Contreras and Reese Kolke. Hinsdale Central’s strength defensively, at least its experience, rests in the secondary, although Joe Boggs returns at linebacker and Sean Lynch up front. Hinsdale Central is ranked No. 10 in the preseason Class 8A poll.

About the Redhawks: Naperville Central graduated quite a bit of its core from a team that reached the second round of the Class 8A playoffs last season, losing to Loyola. Maverick Ohle, free safety Ryan Spickerman and inside linebacker Charlie Eagan are names to watch defensively. Senior Chris McCormack and junior Jack Cook competed for the starting quarterback job in the offseason. The early-season schedule before the DVC grind is no picnic, with 2021 playoff team Plainfield North in Week 2 and a home date with a team from Milwaukee in Week 3.

FND Pick: Hinsdale Central

Montini (3-6 last season) at IC Catholic Prep (11-2)

When: 7:15 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: IC Catholic 17, Montini 15 (2021)

About the Broncos: Montini is surely eager to bounce back from an uncharacteristic season – the Broncos missed the playoffs for the first time since 1992. Third-year QB Cole Teschner has a ton of talent to throw to outside with Julian Turner, who had more than 50 catches last year, Mingo Nixon, Trey Barrett and sophomore Donovan Olugbode, who already holds offers from Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa. Alex Marre, who played in a handful of games last year before a broken leg, figures to be the lead back with 1,000-yard rusher Joshua Robinson’s transfer to Bolingbrook. Crazy to say being Week 1, but this could be a must win for Montini’s playoff hopes given the gauntlet awaiting in the last four weeks – Marist, Providence, Nazareth and Joliet Catholic.

About the Knights: IC Catholic, which has reached the state semifinals five times since 2015, must also be anxious to get started after a devastating end to last season. The Knights lost to eventual Class 3A champion Byron 15-14 on a touchdown run and two-point conversion in the final minute. This game is the second game in the resumption of a series between former Suburban Parochial Conference rivals, following the Knights’ close win last year. Junior WR/FS KJ Parker, who holds offers from Iowa, Iowa State and Wisconsin, is an electric talent and a top target for junior and third-year starting QB Dennis Mandala. Senior RB Malik Gray, who ran for over 1,000 yards last season, also returns. Quite a start to the season for the Knights with Montini and a visit to defending Class 4A state champion Joliet Catholic. The Knights are ranked No. 2 in the preseason Class 3A poll.

FND Pick: Montini

Kankakee (13-1 last season) at Nazareth (7-5)

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: First meeting

About the Kays: Kankakee, last year’s Class 5A state runner-up, is the preseason No. 1 in Class 5A. Junior athlete Jyaire Hill, with 25 scholarship offers including Michigan, Illinois and Auburn, is one of the state’s top talents. The Kays return 12 starters from a team that lost to Fenwick in the Class 5A championship game. Joining that group is speedy junior running back Tony Phillips, a transfer from Bishop McNamara and former state 100 and 200-meter dash champion.

About the Roadrunners: The Roadrunners, ranked No. 2 in the preseason Class 5A poll, last season reached their sixth state quarterfinal since 2013, losing to eventual champion, in a season in which it played six freshmen. One of those is QB Logan Malachuk, who threw for 1,806 yards and 18 TDs as a freshman. He has a big-time weapon in Wisconsin recruit Justin Taylor, who had 794 receiving yards and seven TDs last year and also plays defensive back. William Beargie, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound Princeton commit, and sophomore defensive end Gabe Kaminski, who holds offers from Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Tennessee, are others to watch. A bear of a schedule early for Nazareth with Kankakee and 2021 Class 6A quarterfinalist Lemont the first two weeks.

FND Pick: Kankakee

Glenbard West (8-3 last season) at Marist (9-3)

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Last matchup: First known meeting

About the Hilltoppers: The strength starts up front for the Hilltoppers, who return all five starters in what has been touted as the biggest, and perhaps the best, offensive line that head coach Chad Hetlet has had. 305-pound Wisconsin recruit Chris Terek anchors a line that averages 250 pounds across the board. That group is well suited for what the Hilltoppers like to do best – ground and pound – with speedy senior running back Joey Pope, who ran for over 1,000 yards last season with close to 2,000 all-purpose yards. Senior QB Korey Tai and junior receiver JuJu Ellens are both third-year varsity players. Senior middle linebacker Jack Oberhofer leads a defense that could start six juniors. Glenbard West is ranked third in the Associated Press Class 8A preseason poll.

About the RedHawks: The RedHawks have reached the Class 8A semifinals the last three playoffs, losing in that last round each season – last fall to Maine South by two points. Marist is ranked eighth in the Associated Press Class 8A preseason poll. Senior Dermot Smyth, backup QB to Dontrell Jackson Jr. the last two seasons, takes over behind center. His top target is senior WR Ryan Sims, a Miami (Ohio) commit, who had 759 receiving yards and 10 TDs last season. Senior CB John Nestor, an Iowa recruit, and senior DL Jamel Howard Jr., a Wisconsin commit, are players to watch defensively.

FND Pick: Glenbard West

Wheaton Warrenville South (5-5 last season) vs. Simeon (5-5)

When: 3 p.m. Saturday, at Gately Stadium

Last matchup: Wheaton Warrenville South 33, Simeon 6 (1996)

About the Tigers: Braylen Meredith, a 6-foot-5 receiver who was a starter on WW South’s sectional final basketball team, is a player to watch for a Tigers’ team that returns a fair amount of skill-position players. Fellow receiver Colin Moore and junior running back Matthew Crider also return. James Sok and Brahm Rozanski have competed for the starting QB job over the summer and in the preseason. This looks like an important game for the Tigers early with Neuqua Valley next in the non-conference before entering the DuKane Conference ringer.

About the Wolverines: Simeon has made 20 consecutive playoff appearances as one of the Public League’s better football programs, the last nine under head coach Dante Culbreath. Senior wide receiver Malik Elzy is the player to watch. The eighth-ranked senior in Illinois is committed to Cincinnati. Western Michigan commit Angelo Stockstill is another to keep an eye on.

FND Pick: WW South

Fenwick (12-2 last season) vs. Oak Park-River Forest (4-5)

When: 9:30 a.m. Saturday, SeatGeek Stadium, Bridgeview

Last matchup: Fenwick 15, Oak Park-River Forest 12 (1989)

About the Friars: Defending Class 5A champion Fenwick will look mighty different this fall, with seven starters graduated on both sides of the ball notably Suburban Life Player of the Year Kaden Cobb at QB. The Friars also have a new defensive coordinator, Nick Halkias, as Titcus Pettigrew left for Bolingbrook. Senior EJ Hosty and junior Marek Hill have competed in the preseason to fill Cobb’s shoes at QB. Several questions need answering on offense with the Friars replacing their quarterback, both running backs, both receivers and multiple linemen. Fenwick is ranked fifth in the preseason Class 5A poll.

About the Huskies: Oak Park-River Forest returns five starters on offense and six or seven on defense from a team that just missed the playoffs, finishing 4-5 for the second consecutive full season. QB coach Jack Gooch is a third-year starter and Ryan Martin is his top receiver back. The Huskies also return three starters on the offensive line and experience and playmakers at all three levels.

FND Pick: Fenwick

Downers Grove North's Ethan Thulin (3) runs back a punt during football game between Downers Grove North at Hinsdale Central. Oct 1, 2021.

Downers Grove North (4-5 last season) at Hoffman Estates (8-3)

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: Downers Grove North 24, Hoffman Estates 21 (2021)

About the Trojans: Downers Grove North is no doubt motivated to get back out there after dropping their last four games of 2021 to narrowly miss the playoffs. Nine starters return on offense and six on defense, with seven third-year starters. Senior receiver Ethan Thulin, who caught 45 passes for 650 yards and seven TDs, is one of those three-year starters and the player to watch. Senior QB Sam Reichert is another third-year starter with defensive end Ben Bielawski anchoring the defense.

About the Hawks: Hoffman Estates last season won its first conference title since 1994 and returns QB Aiden Cyr, who directed an offense that averaged over 37 points per game last season. Junior running back junior Quincy Williams, who played at Hoffman before moving to Florida, has come home. The Hawks’ receiving corps is deep, its secondary talented and athletic.

FND Pick: Hoffman Estates

Downers Grove South (5-5 last season) at Wheaton North (13-1)

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: Wheaton North 50, Downers Grove South 0 (2021)

About the Mustangs: Downers Grove South returns six starters on offense and five on defense from a young team that played 19 sophomores at one point last season but still won its last five regular-season games to reach the playoffs. Tight end/defensive end Mack O’Halloran is a two-way standout with offers from Central Michigan and Army. QB Ryan Dawson, like O’Halloran, is a three-year starter and 6-foot-5 tight end Brandon Amenionpong an Indiana State commit. Linebacker Keandra Miles and safety Will Potters are players to watch defensively. The Mustangs have a brutal first four games – Wheaton North, Glenbard West, Downers Grove North and Willowbrook – that they need to survive.

About the Falcons: The Falcons no doubt will look quite different from the team that won the Class 7A state championship last November. Several key players graduated, notably three-year starting QB Mark Forcucci. Wheaton North’s strength – and most experience – offensively is along the offensive line. Linebacker Ross Dansdill and defensive back Tyler O’Connor return on defense, but the Falcons must replace nine starters on that side of the ball. Wheaton North is ranked ninth in the preseason Class 7A poll.

FND Pick: Wheaton North

Lyons (5-5 last season) at Buffalo Grove (9-2)

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: First known meeting

About the Lions: Lyons last season made the playoffs for the first time since 2017, losing to eventual Class 8A state champion Lockport in the first round. Several starters return from that group. Junior lineman Eddie Tuerk holds 16 scholarship offers including Michigan and Iowa. Senior tight end Graham Smith, a Yale recruit, leads the receiving corps for junior QB Ryan Jackson, who made his varsity debut in Week 6 last season.

About the Bison: Buffalo Grove is coming off its best season since 2017, but graduated 37 seniors with just three starters returning. QB Michael Cervantes rushed for over 1,100 yards last season and is a dangerous runner. Speedy receiver/linebacker Anthony Palano is a top target and CJ Relias, who will anchor both lines, is the third returning starter.

FND Pick: Lyons

Schaumburg (2-7 last season) at York (8-2)

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: York 37, Schaumburg 7 (2021)

About the Saxons: Schaumburg has not been to the playoffs since 2017, but there is reason for optimism this fall with 12 starters returning. The defense should be a strength, led by three-year starters in linebackers Gabriel Dominguez, Jacob Acevedo and John Sanfilippo and defensive back Jake Peterson. The Saxons certainly hope for improved defense – that unit gave up just under 32 points per game last season and Schaumburg dropped its last six games of the season.

About the Dukes: York is riding a ton of momentum into 2022. The Dukes last season reached the playoffs for the first time since 2011 with their most wins since 2010. Several key pieces of that team’s core returns, joined by a junior class that went 9-0 on the sophomore team last season. Senior QB Matt Vezza is one the area’s better dual-threat QBs. He also has his starting running back, Kelly Watson, and big-play receiver, Charlie Specht, back alongside him. Linebacher David Loch is the leader of a defense with an experienced secondary behind him.

FND Pick: York

Notre Dame (3-6 last season) at Willowbrook (8-4)

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: First known meeting

About the Dons: Notre Dame last season missed the playoffs for the first time since 2014. Senior quarterbacks Enzo Ricciardi and St. Ignatius transfer Coleman McDonagh are competing for the starting job. Ricciardi started all of the Dons’ spring games in 2021 and played in 13 games last fall. Whoever is under center will be looking for Frankie Ricciardi, who will play running back and receiver on offense and also start at cornerback defensively. Senior lineman Karl Schmalz, a Brown commit, is a player to watch on the Dons’ defense.

About the Warriors: Four starters return on offense and eight on defense for a Willowbrook program that last season made its fifth consecutive playoff quarterfinal appearance. Senior WR/DB Joey Tumilty is the man to watch. Tumilty was second on Willowbrook in tackles last season and had nearly 1,200 yards rushing and receiving with 13 TDs. Junior QB AJ Pawlicki is a third-year varsity starter. Linebacker Adrian Guerrero is another leader defensively. The Warriors swapped CCL/ESCC Week 1 opponents with Notre Dame after playing Providence in recent seasons. Willowbrook is ranked fifth in the preseason Class 7A poll.

FND Pick: Willowbrook

Hinsdale South (4-5 last season) at Deerfield (9-2)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: Deerfield 39, Hinsdale South 16 (2021)

About the Hornets: Hinsdale South returns several starters from a team that finished 4-5 and narrowly missed the playoffs. Two-way starter Griffin Carr, who had 63 tackles and 11 sacks last season, is a two-time all-conference player and one to watch up front for the Hornets. Hinsdale South is a team with speed and big-play potential provided it executes.

About the Warriors: Deerfield last season reached the playoffs for the fifth time in six postseasons under head coach Steve Winiecki, winning the Central Suburban North title and reaching the second round of the playoffs for the second straight time.

FND Pick: Deerfield

Riverside-Brookfield (5-5 last year) at Morton 3-6

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: Riverside-Brookfield 23, Morton 21 (2021)

About the Bulldogs: Coach Sam Styler likes how things are moving in the right direction for the Bulldogs. “Our team has progressed immensely since last season,” he said. “Offensively, we are able to bring back our entire line from last year, which is huge for us. Those guys have been our rock this entire offseason, and I believe they will be a huge difference-maker for us. Defensively, we are flying around and making plays all over. Have great leadership on both sides of the ball, and I think this team is eager to get out there and compete against a different colored jersey.” Ryan Novak is a key cog for R-B at both running back and linebacker, while Styler said Diego Gutierrez had a great summer at quarterback after seeing a lot of varsity action as a sophomore. Offensive lineman Jackson Ramos “is one of the toughest, most physical linemen in the area,” Styler said. Riverside-Brookfield beat Morton 23-21 last season on Matt Novak’s 49-yard field goal as time expired.

About the Mustangs: Morton returns five starters on offense and five on defense from the team that finished 3-6, the three wins the program’s most wince 2012. Senior tight end/defensive end Aaron Miramontes, 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, is a force on both sides of the ball. Senior wide receiver Leon Kelsick is a fourth-year starter.

FND Pick: Riverside-Brookfield

Noblesville, Ind. (2-8 last year) at Benet (4-5)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: First meeting

About Noblesville: Noblesville, from a town located just north of Indianapolis, actually started its 2022 season last week (Indiana starts a week earlier), beating defending Indiana Class 4A state champion Mt. Vernon 43-35. Mt. Vernon was also one of Noblesville’s two wins last season. Noblesville ran for 388 yards and six rushing TDs in the game, with Logan Shoffner and Gage Gulley both going over 100 yards. Andrew Page, a 6-foot-3, 325-pound offensive lineman, is a top 50 senior recruit in Indiana committed to Kent State.

About the Redwings: Benet last season missed the playoffs for the second time since Pat New took over as coach in 2010. Pierce Walsh, a 6-foot-4, 212-pound Minnesota recruit tight end who is also expected to take snaps at wide receiver, provides a large target and is the man to watch. Tasked with getting him the ball will be Anthony Picciolini orJake Hoeppel, who have competed for the starting quarterback position over the summer. Picciolini started in eight games last season. Senior linebackers Dave Cservenyak and John Weidenbach anchor the Benet defense. This will be the first of two games against Indiana teams Benet will play. The Redwings will travel to South Bend to take on South Bend St. Joseph on Oct. 7.

FND Pick: Benet

Libertyville (6-4 last year) at Lemont (11-1)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: First meeting

About the Wildcats: Libertyville doesn’t have a ton of returning experience back from last year’s Class 7A playoff qualifier, but what it does appear to have an abundant supply of size. 6-7, 280-pound Eastern Michigan commit Trenton VanBoening, an offensive tackle, leads the way in that regard and he’s far from the only one that might prove to be imposing for the Wildcats.

About Lemont: Lemont has returning experience on both sides of the football and it will lean on that to maneuver what appears to be a rather taxing nonconference slate to start the season. Offensively, Lemont has to replace battering ram running back Albert Kunickis, now at Northwestern, but quarterback Payton Salomon had a spectacular season last year throwing 25 touchdowns against just one interception and he seems well prepared and ready to take on the leadership role on offense. Lemont is ranked sixth in the preseason Class 6A poll.

FND Pick: Lemont

-- Steve Soucie

Walther Christian (3-6 last year) at Westmont (1-7)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: Walther Christian 15, Westmont 8 (2021)

About Walther Christian: “Walther Christian will definitely bring a challenge to us as they will bring quite a few returning players,” Westmont coach Taj Jackson said. “To be successful, we must control the time of possession, limit any type of mistakes, be athletes and make stops on the defensive side of the ball. Stated in some of our core values: Play smart, be scrappy, tough and disciplined.”

About Westmont: Westmont lost 12 seniors from a year ago and return only four seniors and one junior to the roster. “We are a very young team. We are rebuilding,” Jackson said. “Most definitely, a tough challenge. The biggest progression for us is that we are a very young team. Our campaign this season is “going back to basics.” From Day 1, we have taught the game from the field and in the classroom. We have become a smarter team than in the past. Jackson said Westmont has the most linemen it has had in years. “I’m excited about that,” he said. One of those linemen is three-year offensive lineman Kamron Singleton. “His leadership will help give more confidence in our young guys.” Singleton also will play linebacker. Running back-linebacker Darius Stevenson leads the way for the Sentinels. He’s a two-time all-conference player. Lucas Fears, just a sophomore, will be counted on at safety and H-back. “This kid is an all-around athlete,” Jackson said.

FND Pick: Walther Christian

-- Mike Miazga, Daily Herald Media Group

St. Francis (8-3 last year) at Lake Forest (10-2)

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: Lake Forest 41, St. Francis 24 (2021)

About St. Francis: Coming off an 8-3 season, the Spartans have plenty to be excited about. Two-way lineman TJ McMillen is committed to Illinois and has been voted the best OL-DL in the conference the last two years. Running back-defensive back Amari Head has put on 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason and will be St. Francis’ featured back. “He looks more explosive and faster. He should have a breakout season,” St. Francis coach Bob McMillen said. Quarterback Alessio Milivojevic (6-2, 200) has offers from Ole Miss and Bowling Green, McMillen noted. “He can make all the throws, is a leader and a person that works on his game consistently,” he said. McMillen added leadership and maturity have been the Spartans’ biggest progressions heading into the season-opener. “The guys have been pushing each other hard in practice and holding each other accountable,” he said. “They are showing up early for meetings and practice, and staying late to make sure they understand everything.” St. Francis is ranked fourth in the preseason Class 4A poll.

About Lake Forest: The Scouts are coming off a state semifinal appearance a year ago. “Lake Forest is a very tough team,” McMillen said. “We need to be able to protect and block up front. They like to blitz a lot. Our quarterback has to have time to get the ball out and give our wide receivers a chance to make some plays. We need to establish the run. We are big up front and we need to move people and open holes.” Lake Forest is ranked eighth in the preseason Class 6A poll.

FND Pick: Lake Forest

-- Mike Miazga, Daily Herald Media Group

Marian Central (4-5 last year) at Wheaton Academy (8-3)

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

About Marian Central: “Look, everyone knows Marian Central hasn’t made the playoffs in the past three or so years, but you can’t for a moment group this program with others in the same situation,” Wheaton Academy coach Jim Johanik said. “The schedule they played over this period is flat-out tough and on film they played well. This is a tough Week 1 opponent with a storied and proud history. We know Marian can’t afford to come into Week 1 with us being anything but prepared. We have to gain confidence and become veterans quickly. We have more than a few guys with athletic giftedness, but they lack playing time. If we stay healthy, we should be a better team as the season progresses and this experience kicks in.”

About Wheaton Academy: Senior quarterback Belay Brummel threw 12 touchdowns against 0 interceptions last year playing behind a senior captain in 2021. “He’s stepped up further in his role this summer,” Johanik said. “He can get the ball to anywhere on the field in a hurry.” Senior two-way lineman Jaret Jawor is a transfer from Lincoln-Way Central and is also a lacrosse standout. Fellow lineman Ethan Brunner is the youngest brother of four to come through the school. “Ethan is off-the-charts intelligent and it shows in his offensive line play,” Johanik said. Johanik likes what he has seen this summer and through the preseason. “This team has been coached hard and they have responded well, probably better than any team I have been a part of, given where we started from.” Wheaton Academy is ranked 10th in the preseason Class 4A poll.

FND Pick: Wheaton Academy

-- Mike Miazga, Daily Herald Media Group

Upstate Eight Conference

Larkin (5-5) at Glenbard East (7-3)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: Glenbard East 24, Larkin 7 (2021)

About Larkin: A playoff team a year ago, the Royals have plenty of talent back in Jahiem Vincent, as well as returning all-conference linebackers Jalen Miller and Hector Flores, who will anchor the defense. Vincent was an all-state triple jumper in the spring, “and since June has matured into one of our leaders,” Royals coach Grant Dietz said. “He’s very athletic and brings a fiery competitiveness to our offense.” Dietz has seen plenty of progress over the last two seasons. “I like where we are as a program,” he said. “We have come a long way in a short amount of time. Our numbers are up, the players are working hard and have responded well to the new coaches on staff.” Dietz knows the Royals will encounter a tough Glenbard East squad. “They are a well-coached football program,” he said. “We have to execute our offense and not beat ourselves.”

About Glenbard East: Rams coach John Walters is well aware of Larkin’s improvement last season. “Obviously, starting the season off against a playoff team from last year is a challenge,” he said. “We played them Week 1 last year in a physical game. We need to be consistent on both sides of the ball. Focus play in and play out. Our focus needs to be on us and how we do things. Guys are bought in and working hard toward our team goals. We are at the point where we need to play a game.” Rams to watch? How about Troy Cooper, Delmario Taylor and Eric McCain out of the gates.

FND Pick: Glenbard East

-- Mike Miazga, Daily Herald Media Group

East Aurora (4-5) at Glenbard South (9-2)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: Glenbard South 41, East Aurora 6 (at East Aurora, 2021)

About East Aurora: “East Aurora will be very athletic, aggressive and well-coached,” Glenbard South coach Ryan Crissey said. “Coach Kukoc always gets the best out of his team. We will need to play fundamentally sound football to be successful. Our speed and athleticism will be very helpful, but doing the little things right is what will make the difference.”

About Glenbard South: Crissey said one marked difference since the summer is improved line play on both sides of the ball, terming the collective progression as “significant.” “We are excited to see the battles at the line of scrimmage,” he added. “Our practices are highly competitive. Lots of players are battling for starting spots and playing time.” South has no shortage of talent. Junior wideout Cam Williams is a Notre Dame commit. “Cam should be a concern to all defenses,” Crissey said. Williams had 671 receiving yards last year and 11 touchdowns. Senior defensive end-offensive tackle Owen Difranco is a University of Ohio commit. He’s coming off a 2021 season where he led the team in sacks with 16. “I expect more of the same,” Crissey said. “Offensive coordinators need to be mindful of his alignment every snap.” Junior quarterback Michael Champagne, Crissey said, is poised for a breakout season with plenty of weapons to work with. “I would not be surprised if Michael were to throw for 2,000 yards this season,” he added.

FND Pick: Glenbard South

-- Mike Miazga, Daily Herald Media Group