While young up front, Crystal Lake South brings back talent at skill positions

CRYSTAL LAKE – Crystal Lake South has several positions to fill after key players from its 2019 Class 6A playoff team graduated.

Four new starters will be on the offensive line with sophomore Nate Compere, who started as a freshman.

The Gators also must replace 1,000-yard rusher Des McCarthy, who graduated, as well as a few defensive players.

But what has South excited is the position that matters the most, quarterback, where lefty junior Justin Kowalak returns after throwing for 1,486 yards (second in the area) and 12 touchdowns.

“We got a great arm in Justin,” wide receiver Brock Jewson said. “He’s really our leader. He’s been getting everyone working. Our line has to give Justin enough time to get the ball out, but we should be solid this year.”

Spring sports practices began Wednesday for football, boys soccer and girls volleyball. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the IHSA to modify its schedule, postponing football, boys soccer and volleyball until this spring slot, then finishing with the normal spring sports in May and June.

Football teams normally are worried about wilting under intense August heat on the first day of practice. On Wednesday, those that were outside were treated to pleasant mid-40-degree temperatures and a sunny day.

Fontana had one workout after school to get the players who still are in season for basketball a preseason practice, then had most of the team work out at the McHenry Athletic Center from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The first games in the six-week season will be played March 19.

“I see a group of seniors that still wants to leave their mark on the program,” said Fontana, whose team made the playoffs the past two seasons. “They put in a lot of time. They still want to leave their mark, they’ve taken younger guys under their wings right now. I’m just excited to give those guys a chance.”

Kowalak completed 53% of his passes last season, and Jewson (29 catches, 611 yards, five touchdowns) tied for sixth in area receptions. Gavin Giejda (19, 183) also returns, and sophomore Nathan Van Witzenburg (240 yards) takes over at running back for McCarthy.

“It’s going to be a really good team this year,” Van Witzenburg said. “Our line has young guys, but a lot of our core positions are returning, and our defense is looking good too. It’s going to be a really fun team for the short season. It’s going to be a good opportunity.”

The FVC is divided into two five-team divisions. There will be one crossover game in the first five, then the last game will be a placement game with teams in each division playing the corresponding team from the other division. The first-place game will be the championship.

“It’s just exciting to hear the kids all talking about it and getting back on the field,” Fontana said. “For 14 months, it’s been, ‘When are we playing?’ To finally know March 3 is our day, the kids have been awesome about it. There has been so much energy coming through.”

Linebackers Shane Moran, Ian Burke and Joey Mikulec and defensive lineman Gabe Wisler are returning defensive starters. Jewson will help out in the defensive backfield.

Compere (6-foot-3, 255 pounds) will be a leader on the offensive line as the returning starter.

“It’s going to be a lot different without Dom [Collado, NCAA Division I Miami of Ohio] and Jack Turner [FCS Butler]. It’s a big change,” Compere said. “It’s a new group with a lot of young guys. We have to do the best with what we have.

“There’s a lot of talent. It’s been crazy to just get going. There’s a lot of potential on this team with a lot of really good guys all over. I can’t wait to show the Fox Valley Conference what we got.”

Joe Stevenson

I have worked at the Northwest Herald since January of 1989, covering everything from high school to professional sports. I mainly cover high school sports now.