High School: Stevenson
Despite being injured on his first play from scrimmage, senior quarterback Matt Micucci threw pair of touchdown passes and added a field goal to lead the Patriots to their first victory over Maine South in seven tries. All six of Stevenson's previous losses to the Hawks were season-ending defeats.
"Knowing how many Stevenson seniors have gone home because of these guys, and how good of a team that is, it was just a great experience for us to win," said Micucci, who finished 20-for-32 passing for 243-yards and two touchdowns.
Micucci's first touchdown came late in the first quarter as sophomore Matt Morrissey hauled in a five-yard slant. Senior running back Kevin Foley gave the Patriots a 14-0 advantage early in the second with an 11-yard run over the left side just three minutes later.
Though Maine South quarterback Matt Alviti would get the Hawks on the board with a 35-yard touchdown pass to senior Jimmy Frankos, Stevenson responded on the ensuing possession. Micucci led the Pats on a 10-play drive and drilled a 28-yard field goal as the first half expired, giving his team a 17-7 lead at the break.
"I thought Matt Micucci played great tonight," said Stevenson head coach Bill McNamara. "He showed great character, great poise, he found open [receivers] and made unbelievable decisions. He showed that he's a top-caliber quarterback."
Stevenson's lead grew to 24-7 as Micucci found fellow senior Troy Radtke on a 20-yard fade to the back corner of the end zone on the first possession of the second half, and despite a pair of Alviti touchdowns over the final two quarters, the Patriots held on for perhaps the biggest win in Stevenson history.
"I don't know if this is the biggest -- we went to the state finals one time -- but this is a big one. It ranks right up there with them," McNamara said. "But our hats are off to Maine South -- they're the defending state champs. There was no quit in those guys, we knew we needed to play four quarters of football. They had a great year, but we're very proud of our kids and we get to play on."
Saturday marked just the third loss in the past four seasons for Maine South, whose seniors finished with three state championships, four Central Suburban League South titles an astounding record of 50-3.
"They played hard, they had a great game plan and they made plays when they needed to," said Maine South head coach Dave Inserra. "We were right there until the end. Our guys battled. They didn't get it done in the end, but I'm just very proud of these seniors and their efforts. We challenged the entire team at halftime and they responded. It was our game to win and we just didn't get it done today."
Though Alviti passed for 214 yards and a pair of touchdowns while also adding a 15-yard touchdown run, the Patriots were able to limit Hawks running back Paul Preston to just 84 yards on 12 carries.
"We tried to keep a very close eye on Preston and Alviti and tried to take our chances with everybody else," McNamara said. "Our defensive coordinator, Josh Hjorth, had an unbelievable game plan and spent countless hours preparing and our kids were ready to play."
Morrissey finished with seven catches for 105 yards and Foley had 23 carries for 79 yards for Stevenson, which will now play the Palatine-Glenbard North winner in next week's quarterfinal. But in the meantime, Micucci and the rest of the Patriots certainly plan to enjoy the feeling of taking down the three-time defending state champs.
"I went to every one of those Maine South-Stevenson games, and to finally be here and win it, it's unbelievable," said Micucci. "After the 2003 game, my dad put his arms around my shoulders and said as we were walking away, 'One day you're going to beat Maine South.' And it's kind of amazing how life goes full circle like that."
Players of the game: Stevenson senior QB Matt Micucci: 20-for-32 passing, 243 yards, 2 TDs, INT / Maine South junior QB Matt Alviti 16-for-25 passing, 214 yards, 2 TDs, INT and 17 carries for 49 yards, TD.
Stat of the game: This was just the third Maine South loss in the past four seasons. The win was also Stevenson's first over Maine South in seven tries.
It was over when: With less than a minute to play and just one timeout remaining, Maine South was called for encroachment on second-and-5 from its own 33-yard line; the Patriots received a first down and Micucci would kneel twice to run out the clock.
Quote of the night: "This is something I've been waiting for my whole life. My brother lost to Maine South and it's always been a goal in our family to beat them, and now that we've finally done it, I just can't believe it happened." -- Stevenson sophomore WR Matt Morrissey
Weaver and the Ramblers have been eliminated by Maine South the last two years in the 8A semifinals and watched as the Hawks continued onto consecutive state championships.
On the one hand, it’d be understandable if Loyola would rather not see Maine South again. The Hawks may just have their number. But on the other hand, the Ramblers could believe if they’re going to win their first state championship since 1993 the proper way for it to come is by pushing Maine South off the mountain.
Weaver thought the latter.
“That’s who we want to see,” Weaver said. “That’s the goal right now. We’ve competed against them greatly. Great competition. We want to play the best competition. We want to play Maine South.”
Of course, Maine South doesn’t care who it plays. For the last three years, the Hawks have set up the Class 8A dominoes and knocked them down one by one on their way to three consecutive state championships.
Best opening round game
No. 12 Homewood-Flossmoor at No. 5 Marist: Whatever the over is for this game, take it. Both teams have put up plenty of points this season. Homewood-Flossmoor is averaging 43.2 points a game. Marist is averaging 37.9 points and has scored 120 points in its last two games.
Top 10 Class 8A teams
1. Maine South (9-0): The Hawks are shooting for their fourth consecutive state championship. They’ve been ranked No. 1 in the area from the opening poll.
2. Loyola (9-0): The Ramblers have come close to dethroning Maine South. Is this finally the year? Their offense and defense have been impressive.
3. Bolingbrook (8-1): The Raiders’ lone loss came to Lincoln-Way East, and they were leading that game the entire first half. They’re not too far off Loyola and Maine South.
4. Palatine (8-1): The Pirates responded from their season-opening loss to Montini with eight consecutive wins.
5. Marist (7-2): The RedHawks are as hot as anyone right now with back-to-back wins over Carmel and Joliet Catholic.
6. Downers Grove South (8-1): The Mustangs took a step back with their Week 9 loss to Addison Trail, but they were among the state’s top teams throughout the rest of the season.
7. Bartlett (7-2): The Hawks’ losses came early in the season to Batavia and Wheaton North. They rallied to win the Upstate Eight Valley title.
8. Waubonsie Valley (8-1): The Warriors’ lone regular-season loss came to Bartlett and was the difference for the Upstate Eight Valley title. Waubonsie Valley is a No. 1 seed.
9. Stevenson (7-2): The Patriots have played six games decided by seven points or less. They won four of them.
10. Mount Carmel (6-3): The Caravan ended the regular season on a low note, losing to Providence. They were in the area’s top 10 for most of the year.
Top 5 players to watch
1. Simeon offensive lineman Jordan Diamond: Diamond is one of only two Illinois players in ESPNU’s 150. He’s not committed yet.
2. Maine South quarterback Matt Alviti: Alviti already has offers from Illinois, Northwestern and Notre Dame. He’s still only a junior.
3. Bolingbrook linebacker Antonio Morrison: Morrison is one of the state’s top defensive players. He’s committed to Florida.
4. Downers Grove South running back Josh Williams: Williams is in contention for ESPNChicago.com Offensive Player of the Year.
5. Loyola quarterback Malcolm Weaver: Weaver is one of the area’s premier dual-threat quarterbacks.
Simeon (7-2): It’s hard to tell what the Wolverines are going to do in the playoffs. They lost early games to Mount Carmel and an out-of-state team, then cruised through their Public League competition. They have the pieces to make a run.
Maine South coach David Inserra: “Class 8A looks to be fair throughout with even competition in each of the four quads. The key to success for us is continue to do what we do best and make slight adjustments based on the opponent at hand. This time of year can be a grind. so it's important to stay healthy physically and sickness-wise, plan accordingly, be able to shift ‘mid-stream’ if that's what's called for and stay the course. Everyone is good at this time. Should be a great playoff with some interesting and exciting games right off the bat.”
Loyola coach John Holecek: “I know there’s one team that’s really, really good out there that we’re going to have to play eventually. But there are a bunch of North Side teams that could cause us a lot of trouble. There’s a bunch of good teams, unknowns in the playoffs. We’re not going to look ahead. We’re just going to talk about the next game.”
The road for the defending Class 8A state champions: If the seeds play out, Maine South would face Stevenson in the second round and Palatine in the quarterfinals. Because the IHSA doesn’t seed 1-32 in the playoffs, Maine South and Loyola would meet in the semifinals. It would be at Loyola, which is the top seed.
Fun fact: Thirty of the 32 teams in the Class 8A playoffs also reached the playoffs last season. Only Hinsdale Central and Naperville Central missed the playoffs last year. Mount Carmel is making its 26th consecutive appearance.
State championship prediction: Maine South over Bolingbrook
1. Conference showdowns: The next two weeks should be full of drama in a number of conferences. The Catholic League Blue again will come down to Loyola, Mount Carmel and St. Rita. Four teams are tied for first in the East Suburban Catholic. Wheaton North is in first place in the DuPage Valley, but still has to play Glenbard North and Wheaton Warrenville South. Lake Forest leads the North Suburban Lake, but still has to play Lake Zurich and Libertyville.
2. Prairie Ridge belongs: The question I had before watching Prairie Ridge play Jacobs on Friday was whether it belonged in the conversation with the state’s elite teams. Because Prairie Ridge plays smaller schools and falls into Class 6A, there is always that perception the Wolves can’t hang with the big boys. After watching them on Friday, I’m positive they belong. Their offense could likely move the ball on anyone. Their running game is among the area’s best, and quarterback Nick Nissen is mobile and delivers a nice pass. The defense bent against Jacobs, but didn’t break in the end. Prairie Ridge won’t get a chance to face Maine South, Glenbard West or the other elite teams, but it is among them.
3. Lake Zurich-Stevenson again: Last season, my favorite game was Stevenson’s come-from-behind victory over Lake Zurich in the final seconds. I didn’t expect this year’s game to be as exciting, but I was wrong. While it’s not my favorite game of the year -- Joliet Catholic’s win over Carmel probably still ranks No. 1 -- Thursday’s game was another classic with Stevenson pulling out another win with a long drive in the final minutes. I’m sure next year’s will be just as dramatic.
4. Don’t forget about Wheaton Warrenville South: The back-to-back Class 7A state champs rightfully dropped off everyone’s radar after falling to 1-3. Quietly, the Tigers have won their last three games and have put themselves in a position to make a run at another DuPage Valley title. They may not be the same team they were a year ago, but they’re still not someone opponents will want to see come playoff time.
5. Rhode, wow: It hasn’t taken Montini quarterback John Rhode long to get back into the swing of things. After making his season debut in Week 6, he threw for eight touchdowns this past week. Montini’s offense is clicking at the right time.
LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. – The heroes and location had changed from a year ago, but the result was just the same.
For the second consecutive season, Stevenson drove the field in the final minutes to knock off conference rival Lake Zurich. On Thursday, the Patriots went 98 yards on their game-winning drive, and Kevin Foley scored from 3 yards out with 23 seconds remaining to lift his team to a 24-17 win over visiting No. 9 Lake Zurich.
Last season, the Patriots went 80 yards and scored with six seconds left to pull off 24-23 win at Lake Zurich.
“It’s last year all over again,” Lake Zurich senior Jon Way said. “This time it’s our home field, so we get to celebrate with our fans, which is nice. Yeah, it’s just like déjà vu. We put up points, and we come back for that last touchdown.”
The North Suburban Lake match up was a rollercoaster most of the way through.
After a scoreless first quarter, Stevenson (5-2, 3-1) jumped on Lake Zurich (5-2, 4-1) with three consecutive scores to go up 17-0 in the second quarter. Patriots quarterback Matt Micucci connected with Anthony Bozin for a 55-yard touchdown and then Way for a 10-yard score. Micucci added a 41-yard field goal.
Micucci had one of his finest days as Stevenson’s quarterback. He went 18-for-23 passing for 247 yards and two touchdowns. He was the backup last season.
Lake Zurich quarterback Zach Till scored the first touchdown on a 22-yard run, and Mike Shield plunged in for a 1-yard score to tie the game.
From there, the drama only increased.
Following another Lake Zurich stop, the Bears moved the ball again with ease on Stevenson. They got all the way down to its 1-yard line and faced a fourth and goal. Till attempted to carry the ball in over the left corner, but Stevenson linebacker Carl Miller stepped up and halted him from reaching the goal line.
It was Stevenson’s third goal-line stop of the season.
“Our defense has always stepped it up,” Micucci said. “Those guys make big plays at big times.”
Stevenson’s defense was tested twice more. On Lake Zurich’s next drive, it set up a 33-yard field goal attempt. Miller came through again and blocked the field goal off his helmet. Finally after Stevenson’s last score, Dominykas Bickus intercepted Till to seal the win.
“It was two playoff-caliber football teams just battling it out, slugging, punching,” Stevenson coach Bill McNamara said. “It was like 15-round heavyweight boxing match. We had enough in the tank in the end.”
Lake Zurich was left with an empty feeling again.
“We got to play four quarters of football,” Lake Zurich coach Bryan Stortz said. “I don’t think we’ve done that as a football team. Here we are in Week 7, and we still haven’t played four quarters. We need to do something coaching-wise, player-wise to do that or it’s going to be tough for us.”
Till rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown. He was 8-of-18 passing for 95 yards.
Onion completed passes to seven different receivers and No. 20 Lyons forced five turnovers and blocked a punt in its 24-19 season-opening win over No. 16 Stevenson on Friday night.
The five turnovers included a game-sealing interception by Conner Wasz, who picked off Stevenson quarterback Matt Micucci inside Lyons' 20-yard line with 1:44 left in the fourth quarter. It was one of four interceptions by the host Lions, who found themselves in the right place at the right time from the opening kickoff.
"Obviously, our secondary came up huge," Lyons coach Kurt Weinberg said. "We got a lot of guys, athletically, who can play very, very well. We came up with some huge stops, but also some big turnovers when we needed them."
Onion, meanwhile, played calm and collected. In Lyons' four- and five-receiver spread offense, he completed 20-of-33 for 190 yards and a touchdown to receiver Matthew Harris. Harris and Rennick Thompson tied for the team lead with six catches.
Perhaps most importantly, Onion didn't throw an interception.
"Everyone this week was saying, 'You're going to throw up. You're going to be nervous. Your knees are going to be shaking,'" Onion said. "But I felt confident, and the coaches prepared us well."
Onion said getting called up to varsity team at the end of last season helped prepared him for Friday's win. It was a big one, too: Stevenson had won 19 straight regular-season games.
"I didn't know that," Weinberg said. "Ultimately, just beating a great program like Stevenson makes you feel good. We know who they are, and we know what they do. They win football games. They hit you in the mouth, and we knew it would be a tough one coming (into the game). I'm just happy to beat Stevenson."
While Lyons' offense was often methodical, using short passes to rack up 15 first downs, its defense played with exclamation points. Evan Booth had two interceptions while Jamari Burks added another. It wasn't just the defensive backs, though. Jimmy Mitchell recovered the blocked punt in the first quarter and Robert Mitchell recovered the fumble before halftime.
The win is an early boost for the Lions, whose difficult schedule includes Downers Grove South and Glenbard West in the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, Stevenson's bid for a 23rd consecutive playoff berth hit a Week 1 snag.
"We turned the ball over tonight," Stevenson coach Bill McNamara said. "We gave them more opportunities than they could ever ask for. Hats off to Lyons. They took advantage of it. We got some work to do. We'll get better."
Stevenson never led but had its chances. Anthony Bozin's and Nathan Kahn's short touchdown runs in the second and fourth quarters, respectively, pulled the Patriots with a score. But each of their next possessions ended with turnovers, including the final interception at the end of the game.
"It's real disappointing," said Stevenson wide receiver Troy Radtke, who hauled in a game-high seven catches for 169 yards. "But after the slow start, I'm really proud of our team after coming back and digging deep in the second half. We really showed a lot of heart out there."
One of the Lions' most dangerous weapons, Will Konstant, limped off the field with an ankle injury late in the third quarter and did not return. He often replaced Onion when Lyons' offense moved inside the 10-yard line and twice scored on 1-yard touchdown runs.
Players of the game: Lyons -- QB Connor Onion (Jr.) 20-for-33, 190 yards, TD; WR/DB Evan Booth (Sr.) two INTs. Stevenson -- WR/DB Troy Radtke (Sr.) 7 receptions, 169 yards, TD.
Stat of the game: Stevenson quarterback Matt Micucci, who doubles as the team's kicker, missed an extra point after converting all 47 of his attempts last season.
It was over when: Lyons defensive back Conner Wasz intercepted Stevenson's Matt Micucci inside Lyons' 20-yard line with 1:44 left in the fourth quarter.
Quote of the night: "There's some things we'd like him to do better," Weinberg said of Onion, "But all in all, I think he ran the machine well and ran the show well. He did a good job distributing the ball and understanding what we were after. I think he did a good job for his first start, for sure."
Warren (0-0) at No. 1 Maine South (0-0) on FridayThe story: Maine South begins its quest to win a fourth consecutive Class 8A state championship with Warren. Maine South is widely considered the state’s top team this season. Maine South coach David Inserra will miss the opener due a one-game suspension due to incidents at last year’s state title game. Warren is looking for a stronger start to this season. The Blue Devils dropped two of their first three games last season. They’re expected to pass the ball more this season.
Warren player to watch: Linebacker Matt Goad should be a difference-maker for the Blue Devils this season.
Maine South player to watch: With the departure of Reilly O’Toole, Matt Alviti is the state’s next biggest star quarterback. He has already received offers from Illinois, Notre Dame and Northwestern.
Quote: Maine South coach David Inserra -- “The kids have taken it on as a motivation to work that much harder. We talk about opportunities. This is an opportunity that not many kids get to win a fourth state championship.”
Prediction: Maine South 42, Warren 21
No. 3 Glenbard West (0-0) at No. 2 Wheaton Warrenville South (0-0) on Sunday
The story: This will be one of the most highly-anticipated games of the season. The two teams have met in the playoffs last two seasons, and Wheaton Warrenville South won both times, including in the 2009 Class 7A state title game. Both teams are stacked with talent again and could very well meet up in the playoffs for a third consecutive season. To add to the excitement, the game will be televised on ESPN2.
Glenbard West player to watch: Quarterback Justice Odom is not only making his starting debut, but he’s also doing it against his former school. Odom previously attended Wheaton Warrenville South.
Wheaton Warrenville South player to watch: Thaddeus Armstrong replaces Reilly O’Toole at quarterback. Armstrong isn’t expected to be as dominant as last year’s ESPNChicago.com player of the year, but he does have ability and is expected to excel in the Tigers’ offense.
Quote: Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch – “It’s a great chance to show off Illinois football, which is in the intent of signing this game up.”
Prediction: Wheaton Warrenville South 28, Glenbard West 27
Palatine (0-0) at No. 4 Montini (0-0) on Friday
The story: How Montini does against Palatine and Loyola in its opening two weeks likely won’t determine whether it win another state championship, but it will show whether the Broncos can hang with the big boys and deserve to be ranked No. 4 in the area. The Broncos’ offense was unstoppable during the summer. Palatine hopes to build on last season’s success. After clawing into the playoffs, the Pirates made a run to the Class 8A state quarterfinals.
Palatine player to watch: Jesse Bobbit is one of the area’s biggest offensive threats. He was on the watch list for ESPNChicago.com offensive player of the year.
Montini player to watch: No one may have looked more polished this summer than wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp. Defenses will have their hands full with the Nebraska recruit this season.
Quote: Montini wide receiver Anthony Taylor – “Every team is gunning for the top and knock off Montini. We’re gunning for another state championship. It won’t be easy, but I think we can do it.”
Prediction: Montini 28, Palatine 21
No. 5 Lincoln-Way East (0-0) vs. Edwardsville (0-0) at Illinois State on Friday
The story: Expectations haven’t been this high at Lincoln-Way East since the Griffins won a state championship in 2005. They return a talented group of offensive players, including quarterback Blake Winkler and wide receiver Jason Robertson. Lincoln-Way East cruised past Edwardsville when they met last season.
Lincoln-Way East player to watch: Quarterback Blake Winkler had a strong junior season. He has the potential to throw for some big numbers this season.
Quote: Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar -- “I think this group without being arrogant just wants to put that target on our back and be the group that turns the tide again.”
Prediction: Lincoln-Way East 42, Edwardsville 17
No. 6 St. Rita (0-0) at Portage, Ind. (0-1) on Friday
The story: St. Rita will play two out-of-state opponents this season. The Mustangs defeated Portage 22-0 in Chicago last season. Portage dropped its season opener last week.
St. Rita player to watch: St. Rita relies on its running game, and junior Guerby Ministre becomes the Mustangs’ featured back this season.
Prediction: St. Rita 27, Portage 7
No. 7 Mount Carmel (0-0) vs. No. 10 Simeon (0-0) at Soldier Field on Friday
The story: Mount Carmel and Simeon are quickly developing into a South Side rivalry. Mount Carmel had the Wolverines’ number until last season when Simeon pulled off the upset at Soldier Field. This year’s game should be another classic. Both teams return a number of Division I recruits.
Mount Carmel player to watch: Mount Carmel’s option offense requires a skilled quarterback, and the Caravan believe they have one in first-year starter Don Butkus. He will make his debut at Soldier Field, which is where his great uncle Dick Butkus used to star.
Simeon player to watch: Wolverines quarterback Robert Gregory was one of the most entertaining players in the state last season. He ran and passed with the best of them.
Quote: Simeon coach Dante Culbreath -- “It’s Mount Carmel. It’s the best of Illinois. You get an opportunity to play those guys, and you just got to play hard. It’s been Mount Carmel for years. What those guys have done over there is legendary. We’re just a small group out here working.”
Prediction: Mount Carmel 48, Simeon 42
No. 8 Carmel (0-0) at No. 11 Joliet Catholic (0-0) on Friday
The story: Don’t expect to see many passes thrown in this game. Carmel and Joliet Catholic possess the two best backfields in the state. Carmel’s running game is led by three-year starters Jordan Kos, Michael Panico and Matt Maher. Joliet Catholic is powered by Division I running back recruits Malin Jones and Ty Issac. A Carmel-Joliet Catholic game hasn’t been decided by more than three points the last two seasons. Carmel won 31-28 last season, and Joliet Catholic won 19-16 in 2009.
Carmel player to watch: Jordan Kos rushed for more than 1,500 yards last season. He is on the verge of breaking the school’s rushing record.
Joliet Catholic player to watch: Malin Jones is the next in the long line of talented Hilltopper running backs. He’s headed to Northwestern.
Quote: Carmel coach Andy Bitto – “It’s a good chance right away to go to their stadium and play in front of a huge crowd on TV. You get to know where you’re at right away.”
Prediction: Carmel 41, Joliet Catholic 38
No. 9 Lake Zurich (0-0) at Fremd (0-0) on Friday
The story: Lake Zurich is the favorite headed into this game, but Fremd should never be counted out. Last year, Lake Zurich pulled out a 20-10 win. Two seasons ago, Fremd won 10-7. With the game being at Fremd, don’t be surprised if this comes down to the fourth quarter again.
Lake Zurich player to watch: Jack Lynn is one of the area’s top linebackers. He’s headed to Minnesota.
Fremd player to watch: Sophomore quarterback Sam Beutler stepped in as a freshman and helped the Vikings into the playoffs. He should be even better this season.
Prediction: Lake Zurich 20, Fremd 14
No. 12 Loyola (0-0) at Evanston (0-0) on Friday
The story: Loyola has reached the Class 8A semifinals the last two seasons and lost to Maine South. The Ramblers are hoping for more this season. They travel to nearby Evanston to open the season. The Ramblers defeated Evanston 35-0 in last year’s meeting.
Loyola player to watch: Quarterback Malcolm Weaver was impressive with his running and passing last season. He’s primed for another big season.
Evanston player to watch: Evanston linebacker Leonard Garron made ESPNChicago.com’s defensive player of the year watch list.
Quote: Loyola coach John Holecek – “Here, we play good defensive football. We expect that every year no matter who we play. We expect to be very tough on defense.”
Prediction: Loyola 31, Evanston 7
Senn (0-0) at No. 13 Homewood-Flossmoor (0-0) on Friday
The story: Homewood-Flossmoor surprised a lot of people last season by going to the Class 8A semifinals after having only won one game the year before. With that, the Vikings won’t be sneaking up on anybody this season. Senn went 9-1 last season, but all of its wins came against Chicago Public League opponents.
Homewood-Flossmoor player to watch: Quarterback Tim Williams was a major reason for the Vikings’ success last season. He may be the biggest and most athletic quarterback in the state.
Prediction: Homewood-Flossmoor 42, Senn 10
No. 14 Barrington (0-0) at Libertyville (0-0) on Friday
The story: This game should be entertaining from the start with Wayne Messmer singing the National Anthem and Libertyville wearing camouflage jerseys in tribute to it former players who have served in the military. Outside of that, the game should also be a good one. Barrington has an enormous offensive line and a talented running back in Chase Murdock. Libertyville is thought to be one of this season’s sleepers.
Barrington player to watch: Barrington have had some quality offensive linemen come through its program, but Dan Voltz may be the cream of the crop. He’s committed to Wisconsin.
Libertyville player to watch: Luke Mathewson is likely to make an impact on both sides of the ball at tight end and defensive end.
Quote: Barrington coach Joe Sanchez – “We open with Libertyville, and it’s a great opening game for both schools.”
Prediction: Barrington 27, Libertyville 21
South Elgin (0-0) at No. 15 Downers Grove South (0-0) on Friday
The story: This is a good test for both teams. South Elgin was nearly ranked after coming a strong season last year. South Elgin lost 10-7 in the Class 8A second round to Stevenson and returns a number of quality players this season. Downers Grove South should be a state contender this season if it can remain healthy. That was the Mustangs’ downfall last year.
South Elgin player to watch: Joe Slania earned all-conference honors at offensive tackle last season. He’s also play on the defensive line this season.
Downers Grove South player to watch: When healthy, Josh Williams can be one of the state’s best running backs. The Mustangs hope he can stay healthy for an entire season for the first time in three years.
Quote: Downers Grove South coach John Belskis -- “I think there’s enough kids back where we should be competitive in every game we play. That’s all you can ask.”
Prediction: Downers Grove South 42, South Elgin 35
No. 16 Stevenson (0-0) at No. 20 Lyons (0-0) on Friday
The story: This is one of four games between ranked teams in the opening week. Lyons and Stevenson each had its season ended in the Class 8A quarterfinals last season. Both look to replace some holes due to graduation, but are traditionally strong programs.
Stevenson player to watch: Versatile quarterback Matt Miccuci takes over Stevenson’s offense this season. He will also kick field goals.
Lyons player to watch: Jaime Jones rushed for 866 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. He should be among the area’s best this season.
Quote: Stevenson coach William McNamara – “We have to come out of the shoot ready to go.”
Prediction: Stevenson 24, Lyons 20
Oak Park (0-0) at No. 17 Glenbard North (0-0) on Friday
The story: Glenbard North had an impressive regular season last year, going 8-1, but were upset in the first round of the playoffs. The Panthers are hoping for better this season. Oak Park is looking to rebound from last year’s 2-7 mark. This will be the debut for Oak Park first-year coach John Hoerster. He was previously an assistant at Mount Carmel.
Oak Park player to watch: Returning senior quarterback John Phelan will be in charge of a new offense this season.
Glenbard North player to watch: Running back Phil Jackson was among the area’s best last season. He could have a huge season this year.
Prediction: Glenbard North 24, Oak Park 14
No. 18 Prairie Ridge (0-0) at Glenbard South (0-0) on Friday
The story: Prairie Ridge has high expectations heading into the season coming off back-to-back Class 6A state semifinal appearances. The Wolves return a number of players on both sides of the ball and should be led by returning running back Connor Greenwald and an experienced group of linebackers. Glenbard South joins the Metro Suburban Conference this season. It opened last season with four losses in its first five games, but bounced back to have a 4-5 record.
Prairie Ridge player to watch: Running back Connor Greenwald rushed for 1,172 yards last season. He’s added some speed this season.
Glenbard South players to watch: Running back Wes Sanders and quarterback Tyler Padera should be able to provide the Raiders a number of points this season.
Quote: Prairie Ridge coach Chris Schremp – “Our linebacker corp is the strongest we’ve had in the history of the school.”
Prediction: Prairie Ridge 33, Glenbard South 20
Bartlett (0-0) at No. 19 Wheaton North (0-0) on Friday
The story: Wheaton North undoubtedly will put up points this season. The Falcons’ offense is too potent not to. The question is whether their inexperienced defense will come through. Bartlett’s offense will be a good first test. Led by quarterback AJ Bilyeu, Bartlett is coming off an 8-3 season and a second round playoff appearance.
Bartlett player to watch: Quarterback AJ Bilyeu should one of the area’s best this season. He completed 105-of-157 passes for 1,437 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. He’s committed to Air Force.
Wheaton North player to watch: Wide senior Johnny Daniels was impressive in 7 on 7 player this summer. If he continues to impress, more Division I schools are bound to come knocking.
Quote: Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski – “I think we’ve got quite a few kids coming back on offense. We knew where the pieces were going to fit on that side of the ball. Defensively, we’re basically replacing everybody.”
Prediction: Wheaton North 37, Bartlett 31
Season ahead: Stevenson took a hit in graduation. The Patriots lost their star quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebackers and a few others.
For some programs, losing that many players would mean a rebuilding season. Not at Stevenson. Seeing a number of their top players graduate is nothing new for the Patriots. They’ve been through it before, and they’ve prevailed, qualifying for the playoffs in 22 consecutive seasons.
“We’re proud of our accomplishments,” Stevenson coach William McNamara said. “It’s tough to do that year in and year out. We have many goals [this season.] This year we’re going to have to take it game by game. The schedule is really difficult.”
Star power: Matt Micucci is one of the area’s elite kickers, making all 47 of his extra points last season, and he was 7 of 8 in field goals. While Stevenson expects him to keep up his performance in the kicking game, he’ll also be looked to lead the offense as the team’s starting quarterback. “Matt has a lot of physical attributes,” McNamara said. “He can throw the ball well. He moves the ball well. He can run the ball if needed. He’s worked very hard in the offseason.”
Breakout performer: Troy Radtke was Stevenson’s No. 3 receiver last year and also saw the field as a defensive back. He’s been bumped up to the No. 1 receiver this season and will likely be the Patriots’ only two-way player. He’s athletic and has size at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds. He could make an impact on both side of the ball. “This year should be a big year for him,” McNamara said.
Defensive difference-maker: Dominik Bickus shifts over to the middle linebacker spot this season to fill in for last season's defensive leader Brion Wood, who graduated. Bickus is expected to have a similar impact. “He’s looking great,” McNamara said. “He’s in great shape, making all the calls. He was one of the junior leaders and now is going to be a senior.”
Newcomer to watch: Sophomore Matt Morrissey, the son of former Chicago Bear Jim Morrissey, has a chance to be a special one. He’ll see time this season at free safety. His older brother, Mike, played at Stevenson and Boston College. “He’s just a good-looking, athletic kid,” McNamara said. “He’s young, but he’s very athletic.”
Schedule breakdown: Stevenson’s schedule will be difficult. The Patriots open with back-to-back tough games in Lyons and Glenbrook South. The North Suburban Lake should be competitive again as well. Lake Zurich is the favorite, but Lake Forest, Libertyville and Warren have talent back, too.
Key game: Oct. 6 vs. Lake Zurich -- Stevenson defeated Lake Zurich 24-23 in one of the best games of the 2010 season. This year’s game could be another in-state classic.
What they’re saying: “That pain losing to the state champs pushes you in the offseason,” McNamara said. “Every kid remembers that feeling. That motivated them in the weight room and offseason training.”
Curie senior defensive lineman James Adeyanju
Adeyanju was the premier defensive lineman in the Public League and one of the best in the state this season. He had 71 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He will play at Wisconsin next season.
“He was able to go out and control football games despite being double- and triple-teamed every week,” Curie coach Tyson LeBlanc said. “He’s got a motor. He would fight through the first guy, fight through the second guy and go find the ball.”
St. Rita senior running back Jahwon Akui
Akui capped of his career by becoming St. Rita’s all-time leading rusher. As a senior, he ran for 1,650 yards and 22 touchdowns. He was co-Catholic League Offensive Player of the Year. He is being recruited by a number of schools for football and wrestling.
“He was the most physical running back that I have ever coached and was as sound a blocker as he was a runner,” St. Rita coach Todd Kuska said. “Jahwon was as competitive a player as I have seen and will definitely be hard to replace”
Hinsdale Central senior offensive lineman Jack Allen
In his third year starting for Hinsdale Central, the 6-foot-2, 260-pound Allen continued to be a menace for defensive linemen. Also a star wrestler, Allen possesses a perfect mix of strength and speed. He is committed to Michigan State.
“Jack Allen is one of the most intense players that I have had the pleasure to coach,” Hinsdale Central coach Mike DiMatteo said. “He brings a relentless attitude to practice each and every day. It’s one thing to be a great player, but Jack also has the ability to make those players around him better, thereby making his team better. He is one of a kind.”
Wheaton Warrenville South senior defensive back Caleb Bednarz
A four-year varsity player, Bednarz has been a consistent fixture in the Tigers’ secondary and in their return game. He will play in third state championship game this weekend. He had a team-leading seven interceptions this season. He picked off two passes in the state quarterfinals against Glenbard West.
“Defensively, I think he’s a great playmaker,” Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch said. “He has natural instincts to read and move athletically and jump on passes. He’s very cunning in that regard.”
Plainfield North senior running back Kapri Bibbs
The area possessed a number of quality running backs this season, but Bibbs was at another level. He rushed for 2,654 yards and 38 touchdowns on 300 carries. He also passed for two touchdowns. In his biggest game this season, he rushed for a state-record 520 yards and seven touchdowns against Oswego. He was the ESPNChicago.com Offensive Player of the Year. He is committed to Colorado State.
“Kapri had an outstanding year … the type of year that should put him on anyone’s all-state list and player of the year ballot,” Plainfield North coach Tim Kane said. “He is a well-rounded runner in that he runs between the tacklers for tough yards and has elite speed in the open field. He is ultra-competitive and did all he could to help us win games this year.”
Fremd senior offensive/defensive lineman Brian Bobek
Bobek, who is 6-3 and 275 pounds, is considered one of the top offensive lineman in the country. He helped pave the way for much of Fremd’s offensive attack this season while the Vikings reached the second round of the Class 8A playoffs. He is headed to Ohio State.
“Brian Bobek has lived up to his All-American status,” Fremd coach Michael Donatucci said. “He dominated at center against some of the top teams in the state and was also a mainstay as a defensive tackle. A leader on and off the field, Brian has been a huge part of our success as a program.”
“He just continued to do the things we needed him to do,” Lake Zurich coach Bryan Stortz said. “It’s become harder and harder for him because people continue to focus on him. He didn’t put up the big numbers as he did last year, but he continued to put up the performances that we needed.”
Simeon senior offensive lineman Chris Bryant
The 6-foot-5, 330-pound Bryant was one of the state’s biggest offensive linemen, but also one of the most talented. Bryant was the key piece on a line that led to the Wolverines scoring 40-plus points in 11 games this season. He is being recruited by a number of elite schools.
“He was incredible in the things he was doing out there,” Simeon coach Dante Culbreath said. “He was dominant out there.”
Wheaton North senior quarterback Reece Butler
Butler emerged as one of the area’s top dualthreat quarterbacks this season. He led the Falcons in rushing and passing. He ran for 608 yards and six touchdowns. He was 187-of-275 passing for 1,956 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“I just think he’s more confident,” Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski said. “Last year, he felt a lot of pressure trying to fill in for Taylor Graham, who was a Big Ten recruit. He now feels like this is his team. He’s a senior. Guys look to him as a leader and not a fill-in guy. He’s always been kind of level-headed, a cool character. He doesn’t seem to get rattled too much.”
Kaneland senior quarterback Joe Camiliere
Camiliere had high expectations leading up to the season and met them. He was 194-of-299 passing for 2,955 yards, 36 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also rushed for 687 yards and nine touchdowns while leading Kaneland to the state semifinals.
Vernon Hills senior wide receiver/defensive back DaVaris Daniels
Daniels did a lot of everything for the Cougars this season. He caught 23 passes for 513 yards and five touchdowns. He was 11-of-23 passing for 173 yards and one touchdown. He rushed for 637 yards and 10 touchdown on 59 carries. He returned two punts for touchdowns. He intercepted six passes with one for a touchdown. He also had 20 tackles. He will play at Notre Dame next season.
“He’s the most gifted athlete I’ve coached and an even better person,” Vernon Hills coach Tony Monken said. “ We’re going to miss him, but also can’t wait to watch him on Saturdays.”
Wheaton Warrenville South senior wide receiver Titus Davis
Davis emerged as the Tigers’ No. 1 receiver in the season and continued to flourish throughout the year as Reilly O’Toole favorite target. He caught 52 passes for 1,135 yards and 16 touchdowns. He is being recruited by a number of Division I schools.
“He’s unbelievable, just a great athlete,” Wheaton Warrenville South senior Reilly O’Toole said. “He can always get open. He has great hands. He’s just an unstoppable receiver. I want to get the ball in his hands.”
Prospect senior quarterback Steve Dazzo
Dazzo stepped in perfectly in the shoes of Illinois-bound quarterback Miles Osei and was one of the area’s top dual-threat quarterbacks this year. Dazzo threw for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushed for 1,476 yards and 23 touchdown for one of the state’s top offenses.
“It was his first year playing quarterback,” Prospect coach Brent Pearlman said. “He led us not only with arm and his legs, but with his spirit.”
Maine South junior linebacker Tyler Fahey
Fahey was a major reason behind Maine South’s run to the Class 8A state championship game. After missing the first two games of the year – both losses – Fahey was an impact player on the defensive side the rest of the way. He had 81 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, four interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns.
“He’s very athletic,” Maine South coach David Inserra said. “He probably studies more film than anyone I’ve coached. He’s always so prepared for a game. Sometimes, he’s coaching us. He hits. He’s our second biggest hitter.”
Marist senior kicker/punter Ben Falloon
Falloon was one of the area’s most accurate kickers this season. He connected on 7-of-11 field goals this season with all seven coming from 30-plus yards. His longest was from 50, and all four of his misses were from 50 yards and beyond. He also made 32-of-33 extra points and punted for a 38.2-yard average on 43 punts.
“He is by far the most mentally tough player I’ve been around,” Marist coach Pat Dunne said. “The kicks he’s had in high-pressure situations, I’ve never seen anyone so mentally tough. He also has one of the best work ethics I’ve been around.”
Lemont senior defensive back Clayton Fejedelem
Fejedelem was one of the area’s biggest threats whenever he touched the ball. He returned three punts for touchdowns and one kickoff. He also had 69 tackles, five interceptions, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and blocked three kicks.
“He was the strongest player on the team,” Lemont coach Eric Michaelsen said. “He has a nose for the ball and is physical and fast.”
Joliet Catholic senior running back Josh Ferguson
Ferguson was good for a first down almost every time he touched the ball. He rushed for 1,886 yards on 144 carries, giving him a 13.1 average. He finished with 25 rushing touchdowns, two receiving touchdowns and one kickoff return touchdown. He will play at Illinois next season.
“I think he had to be one of the greatest running backs I’ve had a chance to see let alone to coach,” Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp said.
Gregory was the motor for one of the state’s most high-powered offenses. He completed 84-of-120 passes for 1,600 yards and 28 touchdowns. He also rushed for 919 yards and 16 touchdowns. He is being recruited by a number of big-time schools.
“I was impressed with the way he was able to pick up the offense and run the team,” Simeon coach Dante Culbreath said. “He did a good job with the offense this year. He ran the team better. His decision-making got better. He got stronger. He got faster. I believe he got better overall.” Marmion senior linebacker/running back T.J. Lally
There were few in the state as good as Lally on both sides of the ball. He rushed for 1,264 yards and 16 touchdowns. Defensively, he had 130 tackles and six sacks while leading the Cadets to the Class 6A state title game. He is being recruited by a number of Division II programs.
“He’s an old-school football player,” Marmion coach Dan Thorpe said. “He’s tough, physical and has a great heart. He’s just a playmaker. He has a lot more speed than people give him credit for, and he’s so physical.”
Naperville North senior linebacker Nick LifkaLifka was the Brian Urlacher of Illinois high school football this season. Wherever the ball was, Lifka was. He had 168 tackles (113 solo), 13 tackles for a loss, four sacks, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions. He also had an offensive touchdown. He was the ESPNChicago.com Defensive Player of the Year. He is committed to Boston College.
“A throwback player who plays the game the way it was meant to be played,” Naperville North coach Sean Drendel said. “The best player I have ever coached, and quite possibly as good as a person as he is a player. We will never be able to replace a Nick Lifka.”
Schaumburg senior running back Shepard Little
Little made up for lost time after missing last season. He rushed for 1,897 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also caught two touchdown passes. Against Simeon in the playoffs, he rushed for three touchdowns and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. He is uncommitted.
“I think his vision is good,” Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling said. “I think he’s sneaky powerful for his size. I don’t think you expect someone of his size to hit you like he does. His ability to hit you and make you miss, that’s the tough part. His speed is good, but it’s not great. He’s not going to run past everyone on Friday night, but he’s going to make everyone miss.”
Lincoln-Way East senior linebacker Pat Meehan
Meehan led one of the top defenses in the area. He had 123 total tackles with 79 solo. He had 14 tackles for a loss, two sacks, two quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, one interception and one touchdown. He is committed to Illinois State.
“Pat has set a new standard of linebacker play at Lincoln-Way East,” Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar said. “He has every tool necessary to become a dominate college football player. A tremendous young man both on and off the field.”
Elk Grove senior quarterback Nick Meyer
No player in the state may have meant as much to his team as Meyer did to Elk Grove. He was the Grenadiers’ offense. Meyer was 180-of-293 passing for 2,258 yards and 20 touchdowns. He rushed 1,011 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also had 44 tackles and one interception on defense. He is uncommitted.
“Every time Nick touched the ball this season, you realized there was a chance he could do something very special,” Elk Grove coach Brian Doll said. “His ability to change the game so quickly put him in a special class of football players. He broke almost every offensive Elk Grove High School record during his three seasons on varsity. He will be missed.”
Wheaton Warrenville South senior quarterback Reilly O’Toole
Expectations were high for O’Toole this season after starting for last year’s state championship team and committing to Illinois , and he surpassed everything people thought he was capable of this season. O’Toole was named the ESPNChicago.com High School Football Player of the Year after completing 172-of-229 passes for 3,005 touchdowns, 40 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He also rushed 393 yards and six touchdowns. He will play for the Illini next season.
“He’s a special kid,” Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet.
Lake Zurich senior linebacker JJ Raffelson
Raffelson was the catalyst behind the state’s top defense. He had 111 tackles and 23 tackles for a loss while helping the Bears to the Class 7A state championship game. He is being recruited by a handful of Division I schools.
“He spent a tremendous amount of time in the offseason working his speed development as well as in the film room,” Lake Zurich coach Bryan Stortz said. “He has logged a lot of hours studying the opponent. He knows how they’re going to act and what we’re going to do.”
Glenbard West junior defensive lineman Tommy Schutt
The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Schutt is considered one of the top junior defensive lineman in the country. He had 67 tackles, 14 sacks, 13 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and three blocked kicks this past season. He is being recruited by a number of high-profile schools.
Vernon Hills wide receiver/defensive back Evan Spencer
Spencer and DaVaris Daniels made for one exciting pair. Spencer had 23 catches for 410 yards and six touchdowns. He rushed for 266 yards and eight touchdowns. He returned two punts and one kickoff for touchdowns. He also had 25 tackles, two interceptions and two defensive touchdowns. He’s committed to Ohio State.
“He’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever been around, and his ability to play the ball high, run strong with the ball and pull away from defenders sets him apart from all others,” Vernon Hills coach Tony Monken said. “He’s been a tremendous leader and role model for our program, and they’re going to love him at Ohio State.”
Mount Carmel senior quarterback Chris Sujka
No one in the area ran the option offense better than Sujka. A two-year starter for the Caravan, Sujka rushed for 1,344 yards and 30 touchdowns this season. He also was 50-of-104 passing for 728 yards and four touchdowns. He was named the co-Catholic League Offensive Player of the Year.
“He told me right from the beginning of the season that the game had slowed down for him,” Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti said. “As a junior, he was always real frantic. He made me nervous out there watching him. This year when he runs the option, he’s very confident and comfortable with what he does.”
Loyola senior defensive lineman Mark Sullivan
Sullivan was the Catholic League Defensive Player of the Year. He had 88 tackles, 10 sacks and one forced fumbled for one of the area’s top defenses. He is uncommitted.
“Mark is incredibly athletic for a defensive lineman,” Loyola coach John Holecek said. “He has a great motor, good instincts and pursuits to the ball like no other defensive lineman I have coached. He has had a dominant senior year, ending the regular season as the total tackle, sack, and QB pressure leader for one of the best defenses in the area. While not yet the size of a D-I interior lineman, he has the height and frame to gain muscle and be a real force at the next level.”
Carmel senior linebacker Luke Venegoni
Venegoni was the defensive leader for one of the best defenses in the state. He was a three-year starter. He had 120 tackles, 63 solo tackles, six tackles for a loss and two sacks this season. He is being recruited by a number of schools.
“Luke Venegoni is extremely fast and strong,” Carmel coach Andy Bitto said. “He worked very hard in the offseason to position himself to be the defensive player of the year in the ESCC.”
Barrington junior offensive lineman Dan Voltz
The 6-foot-5, 295-pound Voltz was a rock for this year’s Barrington offensive line. He opened many holes for the Broncos’ successful running game this season and helped Barrington turn last year’s losing record until a winning one this season. He is being recruited by some of the country’s top football programs.
“Dan is a relentless performer whose best attribute I believe is that he is a finisher,” Barrington coach Joe Sanchez said. “He is very athletic for his size and is always looking to improve. He is a tremendous role model for our players both on and off the field. I firmly believe his best football is still front of him.”
Glenbard West senior offensive lineman Jordan Walsh
The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Walsh is one of the top offensive linemen in the country. His blocking has been vital to the Hilltoppers’ offensive success the past few seasons. He will play next season at Iowa.
“Jordan, he’s an incredible player," Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet said. "He goes 100 percent all the time. When he gets that helmet on, and he gets between the lines, he flips that switch and gets that attitude. He'll just bury people.”
Montini junior wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp
Coming off a breakout sophomore season, Westerkamp took his game to another level this year and became the most dominant wide receiver in the area. He caught 82 passes for 1,485 yards and 18 touchdowns. He’s being recruiting by a number of Big Ten schools.
“He is a special football player and the best I have ever had in my 32 years at Montini,” Montini coach Chris Andriano said. “A 40-inch vertical jump with great hands and body control, he makes all the catches in traffic with defenders all around him. His toughness and strength are also seen in his yards after catch and his blocking. He is a complete receiver and a Division I player at the college level.”
Glenbard North senior offensive lineman Paul Wisniewski
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Wisniewski has been a dominant offensive lineman in the DuPage Valley the past three seasons as a starter for the Panthers. He’s uncommitted, but has a number of schools recruiting him.
“He can run and pass block equally well for a player that is 6-4 and 300 pounds,” Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens said. “He has exceptional feet and is a great blocker.”
Richards senior defensive back/wide receiver Jarrell Williams
Williams was a jack of all trades for Richards this season. He had 65 tackles, three tackles for loss, five deflections, two caused fumbles and three interceptions. Offensively, he rushed for 402 yards and six touchdowns, caught 18 passes for 272 yards and four touchdowns and had one punt return touchdown and one kickoff return touchdown. He will play at Northwestern next season.
“Jarrell was asked to do a lot for us this year,” Richards coach Tony Sheehan said. “He did a great job. He is so valuable, he can cover, hit, run the ball, throw the ball and catch the ball, and we asked him to do it all. He very rarely ever came off the field. He is a dangerous player with the ball in his hands.”
Stevenson senior linebacker Brion Wood
Wood anchored one of the area’s top defenses. He had 130 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss, eight sacks and four forced fumbles. He is committed to Penn.
“He does a lot for us,” Stevenson coach Bill McNamara said. “He’s basically another coach on the field. He’s a very smart young man. He scored a 33 on the ACT. When we need to make adjustments or an opposition comes out with a unique formation, he has the ability to line us up correctly and be ready to play football. He’s able to combine the physical and mental parts of the game.”
Sandburg senior kicker/punter Taylor Zalewski
Zalewski is ranked among the top kickers in the nation by ESPN. He connected on 11-of-13 field goals this season with his longest coming from 48 yards. He also was 28 for 29 on extra points and sent 41 of 55 kickoffs in the end zone. He is being recruited by Michigan, Minnesota and other Division I schools.
“He was a huge offensive weapon for us because of his ability to score points for us,” Sandburg coach Dave Wierzal said. “He also helped control field position because he also punts for us.”
Honorable mention all-area
Minooka senior running back Kyle Banks
Mount Carmel senior running back Michael Banks
Thornton senior running back Damien Bell
Crystal Lake South senior offensive lineman Jake Bernstein
South Elgin senior running back Brad Birchfield
Prospect senior running back/defensive back Peter Bonahoom
Glenbard West senior running back Nick Burrello
Minooka senior defensive lineman Zach Colvin
Wheaton Warrenville senior defensive lineman Will Davis
St. Patrick junior wide receiver Guy DiBalsamo
Stevenson senior quarterback Kevin Earl
Glenbrook North junior offensive lineman Brian Ermel
Montini senior defensive lineman Ross Ferraro
Mount Carmel senior linebacker Conor Flaherty
Bishop McNamara senior offensive lineman Matt Frazier
Glenbard West senior wide receiver Mark Hiben
Morgan Park junior quarterback Dae’Shaun Hurley
Schaumburg senior quarterback Mark Iannotti
Carmel junior running back Jordan Kos
Naperville North senior quarterback Matt LaCosse
Glenbard West senior defensive back Mike Laning
Warren senior running back Tom Lindal
St. Rita senior offensive lineman Brian Lurquin
Plainfield South senior quarterback Sheldon Magee
Thornridge senior running back Mik’ail McCall
Joliet Catholic senior linebacker Mike Mettille
Stevenson junior kicker Matt Micucci
Lincoln-Way East senior offensive lineman Joe Mizera
Waubonsie Valley senior defensive lineman Devon Morgan
St. Rita senior linebacker Matt Mullen
Maine South senior offensive lineman Victor Nelson
Homewood-Flossmoor senior running back Malik Norman
Crystal Lake South senior quarterback Drew Ormseth
Downers Grove South senior wide receiver Ryan Oruche
York senior defensive back Joe Paparone
Marist senior wide receiver Alex Puhar
Neuqua Valley senior linebacker TJ Rhattigan
Joliet Catholic senior offensive lineman Kyle Rouse
Homewood-Flossmoor senior offensive lineman Michael Rouse
Simeon senior defensive back Darius Scott
Kaneland senior defensive lineman/running back Blake Serpa
Lyons senior defensive back/wide receiver Mark Sewall
T.F. South senior linebacker Robert Sterling
Marian Catholic junior running back Jeruel Taylor
Prairie Ridge senior defensive back Devon Vance
Loyola junior quarterback Malcolm Weaver
Loyola senior wide receiver EJ Webb
Downers Grove South junior running back Josh Williams
Glenbard North senior defensive lineman Alex Wynn
ESPNChicago.com previews all of the top-20 games.
No. 10 Glenbard West (10-1) at No. 1 Wheaton Warrenville South (11-0) on Saturday
The story: The last time Glenbard West and Wheaton Warrenville South met it was the Class 7A state championship game. Last season, Wheaton Warrenville South defeated the Hilltoppers 31-24 in two overtimes in Champaign. Ever since, Glenbard West has been talking about revenge. Both teams have been ranked in the top 10 for most of the season. Wheaton Warrenville South has been the state’s most dominant team. No opponent has scored more than 14 points on the Tigers, and they’ve put up 38 or more points in 10 of their games. Glenbard West has been strong on both sides of the ball as well. It’s coming off a 42-28 win over Lincoln-Way East. Wide receiver Mark Hiben had a state-record 319 receiving yards in the victory. The Hilltoppers are a run-first team, though. The winner will either play Minooka or Belleville East.
Glenbard West player to watch: Junior defensive lineman Tommy Schutt is considered one of the best in the country. He needs to put pressure on Reilly O’Toole for the Hilltoppers to have a chance.
Wheaton Warrenville South: Quarterback Reilly O’Toole was hyped from the start of the season and has lived up to every ounce of it.
Quote: Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet – “We are fast on defense again and maybe more explosive on offense. Wheaton Warrenville South is a lot stronger on offense this year. Their defense is great again with great team speed. Last year is absolutely motivation for us.”
iPrediction: Wheaton Warrenville South 35, Glenbard West 28
No. 11 Lake Zurich (10-1) at No. 2 Simeon (11-0) on Saturday
The story: Simeon’s offense has been unstoppable all season. The Wolverines haven’t scored less than 42 points all year. Last week, they put up 55 in a win over Schaumburg. On the other hand, Lake Zurich’s defense has been among the state’s best this season. The Bears have allowed 8.5 points a game this season. Only two teams have scored more than 14 points against them. The winner will play either Carmel or St. Rita.
Lake Zurich player to watch: Linebacker J.J. Raffelson has been one of keys to Lake Zurich’s defense this season. He’ll need another big game to slow down Simeon.
Simeon player to watch: Quarterback Robert Gregory may be the state’s best dual-threat quarterback. In last week’s win, he threw for five touchdowns and ran for two more.
Prediction: Simeon 38, Lake Zurich 28
No. 3 Carmel (10-1) at No. 6 St. Rita (10-1) on Saturday
The story: Both these teams spent almost the entire year ranked in the area’s top 10. Carmel relies on its defense and multi-back running game. The Corsairs haven’t allowed their last five in-state opponents to score more than seven points. St. Rita has also been tough to score on and is led offensively by all-state running back Jahwon Akui, who scored five times last week. The Mustangs put up less than 21 points only once this season. The winner will play either Lake Zurich or Simeon.
Prediction: Carmel 31, St. Rita 28
No. 4 Joliet Catholic (10-1) at Peoria Richwoods (11-0) on Saturday
The story: Joliet Catholic hasn’t been tested yet through two rounds of the playoffs. The Hilltoppers won both of their previous games by 42 points. Richwoods should present more of a challenge, especially at home. The Knights are undefeated this season and are coming off a 49-13 win over Lincoln-Way West. They haven’t seen a team like Joliet Catholic this season. The winner will either play Glenwood or Springfield.
Prediction: Joliet Catholic 49, Richwoods 17
No. 5 Loyola (10-1) Palatine (7-4) on Saturday
The story: Palatine has been the surprise of the playoffs. The No. 14-seeed Pirates upset Glenbard North in the opening round and took down Glenbrook South last week. Their defense has been strong the past three weeks, holding their opponents to 14 points or less. Loyola is riding a seven-game winning streak into Saturday. The Ramblers held off Fremd last week for a 14-7 win. Their defense has been stepping up in recent weeks. The defense scored a touchdown again last week. The winner will play either Maine South or Stevenson.
Prediction: Loyola 31, Palatine 17
No. 19 Prairie Ridge (10-1) at No. 7 Crystal Lake South (11-0) on Saturday
The story: These two teams met up in Week 4, and Crystal Lake South pulled out a 24-20 victory. The Gators’ Brad Walovitch was the hero in the win, catching two touchdown passes, kicking a field goal and gaining a first down on a key fourth-down conversion. The two teams combined for 27 fourth-quarter points. Prairie Ridge has taken care of business ever since. It’s coming off an impressive 20-6 win over Morgan Park. The winner will play either Boylan or Cary-Grove.
Prediction: Crystal Lake South 29, Prairie Ridge 28
No. 14 Maine South (9-2) at No. 8 Stevenson (11-0) on Saturday
The story: Maine South is still the king of Class 8A. The Hawks are two-time defending 8A champs and have won their last 12 playoff games. Maine South has won its last nine games this season by 21 or more points. Stevenson has gotten to where it is by relying on its offense and defense. The Patriots are coming off a close one. They defeated South Elgin 10-7 last week. The winner will play either Loyola or Palatine.
Maine South player to watch: Sophomore quarterback Matt Alviti has improved week after week. He’s been poised throughout the playoffs so far.
Stevenson player to watch: Junior kicker Matthew Micucci has come through in the clutch this season. He had a field goal in last week’s narrow win and in the Patriots’ 24-23 win over Lake Zurich earlier in the season.
Prediction: Stevenson 31, Maine South 28
No. 9 Lyons (10-1) at No. 12 Mount Carmel (10-1) on Friday
The story: Both teams are coming off dramatic wins. Lyons pulled out a 21-20 victory over Sandburg last week, and Mount Carmel defeated Neuqua Valley 21-14 in overtime. The Lions have held nine of their opponents to 20 points or less this season. Mount Carmel’s offense has carried it. The Caravan have scored 35 or more points in eight of their games.
Prediction: Mount Carmel 28, Lyons 24
No. 13 Lemont (11-0) at Marmion (10-1) on Saturday
The story: This could be one of the week’s best games. Lemont has put it together on both sides of the ball this season. The Indians’ defense has especially been good, allowing only three opponents more than 20 points this season. Marmion’s only loss came to Montini in its final regular season game. The Cades have held eight opponents to eight points or less this season.
Prediction: Lemont 17, Marmion 14
Homewood-Flossmoor (9-2) at No. 15 Naperville North (8-3) on Friday
The story: Homewood-Flossmoor is one of the year’s greatest success stories. A year after going 1-8, the Vikings are in the Class 8A quarterfinals. The Vikings’ offense can put up points. They’ve scored 30-plus points seven times this year. Naperville North’s defense has been among the area’s best. Led by all-state linebacker Nick Lifka, the Huskies haven’t allowed an opponent more than 14 points in the last four weeks. The winner will play either Lyons or Mount Carmel.
Prediction: Naperville North 24, Homewood-Flossmoor 14
Marian (8-3) at No. 17 Montini (9-2) on Saturday
The story: Montini defeated Marian 35-6 when they met during the regular season. Marian’s defense will need to contain the Broncos’ offense this time around to have a chance. Montini quarterback Matt Westerkamp and his cousin wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp have been on a tear. They hooked up for 200-plus yards and three touchdowns last week. The winner will play either Kaneland or Vernon Hills.
Prediction: Montini 35, Marian 14
Belleville East (9-2) at No. 18 Minooka (10-1) on Saturday
The story: Minooka avenged its only loss of the season last week with a 41-38 win over Plainfield South. The Indians’ running game stepped up again. Belleville East benefitted from East St. Louis being kicked out of the playoffs. Instead of facing nationally-ranked East St. Louis, Belleville East defeated Belleville West 21-13 last week. The winner will play either Glenbard West or Wheaton Warrenville South.
Prediction: Minooka 38, Belleville East 21
Kaneland (11-0) at No. 20 Vernon Hills (10-1) on Saturday
The story: Kaneland and Vernon Hills have been two of the premier Class 5A teams all season. Led by quarterback Joe Camiliere, Kaneland hasn’t scored less than 30 points in a game this season. It also hasn’t allowed an opponent to come within 14 points this season. Vernon Hills has been just as high-powered offensively. With Ohio State recruit Evan Spencer and Notre Dame recruit DaVaris Daniels leading the way, the Cougars have scored more than 40 points seven times this year. Their defense also shut out their first seven opponents this season. The winner will play either Marian or Montini.
Quote: Vernon Hills coach Tony Monken – “Their quarterback is outstanding, and they have a nice athletic group of receivers that give you a lot to cover and think about. Defensively, they’re quick and well coached. Both of us have scored over 40 a game and given up less than 10 a game, so it should be a good one. The keys are pretty simple. We need to minimize mistakes and communicate on defense.”
Prediction: Vernon Hills 34, Kaneland 31
LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. -- Stevenson senior middle linebacker Brion Wood is one of coach Bill McNamara’s favorite players for the obvious reasons.
Wood leads the team with 105 tackles. He’s dropped seven quarterbacks for sacks. He’s forced four fumbles. He also understands Stevenson’s defense as well as anyone and can read offensive formations in an instant.
What separates Wood from that everyday star and what McNamara also greatly admires is his ability to have fun and remain relaxed no matter what is happening on the field. Whether Stevenson is up big or it is attempting to make a goal-line stand in a close ball game, Wood, the ESPNChicago.com Prep Athlete of the Week, is always enjoying himself.
“Sometimes in big games or in very tense moments, kids might get quiet or might get shy or might be really focused on what their responsibilities are,” McNamara said. “Brion’s not afraid to talk, not afraid to crack a joke, not afraid to keep guys loose, and he still performs. It’s pretty rare you get a kid like Brion Wood. He’s a very unique player.
“He has a lot of fun on the field. He really enjoys being out there. Every day you’re around Brion Wood is a great day. He’s a special, special player and he’s a special person.”
To Wood, he isn’t doing anything particularly special. He has an unconditional love for football that isn’t dictated by what occurs from one play to the next.
“I’m playing football to have fun,” said Wood, whose first name is spelled uniquely in the memory of his uncle Brion. “That’s my ultimate goal -- to have as good of a time as possible. When I find an opportunity to make a joke get kids laughing, I do that.”
While Wood’s ability to keep things light helps his teammates, it’s his other skills – his speed, tackling, reading of plays, etc. -- that especially relax his coaches.
“He does a lot for us,” McNamara said of 6-3, 210-pound linebacker. “He’s basically another coach on the field. He’s a very smart young man. He scored a 33 on the ACT. When we need to make adjustments or an opposition comes out with a unique formation, he has the ability to line us up correctly and be ready to play football. He’s able to combine the physical and mental parts of the game.”
That’s especially been true of Wood this season. After starting and playing well the last two years on varsity, Wood wanted to take his game to another level for his final season. In the offseason, he dedicated himself more than ever. He lifted more. He ran more. He watched film more.
And now with Stevenson possessing a 10-0 record and being one of the favorites in the Class 8A playoffs, Wood feels his extra effort was all worth it.
“I just wanted to make sure I was in the best possible shape to be successful this year,” said Wood, who will play at Penn next year.
McNamara doesn’t have a doubt about that.
“I think what made this a special year for him is that he had an incredible offseason,” McNamara said. “He really trained to make his body physically ready for the demanding football season. And you know, he has the mentally capability to go along with the physical attributes.
“He’s put it all together for us. He’s the whole package. He’s had an exceptional year for Stevenson football.”