Features | Friday Night Drive

Wilmington ready for Class 2A state title defense

Quarterback Ryder Meents heads Wildcats contingent out to defend championship

Wilmington’s Rider Meets passes at the Morris 7 on 7 scrimmage. Tuesday, July 19, 2022 in Morris.

MORRIS – It’s usually a good thing when a high school football team has a quarterback returning who started the majority of the previous season.

That is the case for defending Class 2A state champion Wilmington.

Ryder Meents came off the bench when starter Kaden Humphries was injured during the third game of the season, a 10-7 win over archrival Coal City, and guided the Wildcats through the rest of the season undefeated. Meents returns for his senior season with 11 varsity starts under his belt.

“Ryder was put into a tough situation last year,” Wilmington coach Jeff Reents said during a 7-on-7 at Morris with Bolingbrook and Joliet West. “But, he did a nice job, and that year of varsity experience will really help him this year. We can already see that he is much more comfortable with our offense.”

That offense is a throwback these days. Wilmington runs the polar opposite of the spread, pass-heavy offenses that most teams run. Instead, the Wildcats run the tight double-wing and impose their will on opponents by running the ball and running the ball some more. In fact, in the 24-7 win over Nashville in the state championship game, Meents did not attempt a pass.

With a year and a state title to his credit, he hopes that trend changes at least a little bit this season.

“I am excited for the season,” Meents said. “There’s a lot of pressure since we won the title last year, but I can’t wait to just go out there, play football and have fun.

“I’ve been working a lot in the off-season on my throwing. I feel like it has gotten better. Last year, I came in with hardly any practice since I was the backup. This year, I know it’s my job, and I have been working really hard at it.”

Wilmington’s Colin James runs drills at the Morris 7 on 7 scrimmage. Tuesday, July 19, 2022 in Morris.

Reents has noticed the work that the senior has done.

“First off, he’s a multi-sport athlete, and I love that,” Reents said. “He’s just a competitor. He has a lot more confidence about him, and he should. He was a quarterback of a state championship team. We didn’t throw the ball a lot, but he still had to lead that team, and he did that.

“He has worked a lot on throwing the football in the offseason and it shows. He is learning when he has to really throw it in there and when to take something off of it to make it easier for the guys to catch. We are still going to run the ball, but it’s nice to know we have a quarterback that can check to a different play if we need it and can do some damage throwing.”

Wilmington’s Brendan Moran listens to coach Jeff Reents before the start of the Morris 7 on 7 scrimmage. Tuesday, July 19, 2022 in Morris.

Meents is eagerly awaiting his opportunities.

“Being a quarterback at Wilmington, you know you aren’t going to throw many passes,” he said. “But hopefully I have earned the coaches’ trust a little bit to call a few more than we did last year. I know we aren’t going to throw a lot, so when we do, we want to make it count.

“We’re pretty young, but we have talented guys. With a little more work, I think we can be pretty solid. We trust the process. Everyone knows that what the coaches are doing works. You don’t make the playoffs 25 straight years if it doesn’t, so everybody buys in and trusts the process.”