Preseason No. 19: Wheaton North

August, 10, 2011
8/10/11
8:33
PM CT
Wheaton NorthScott Powers/ESPNChicago.comLed by kicker Marci Gawlak and receiver Johnny Daniels, the Falcons could be soaring.
Last season: 8-3 overall, 5-2 DuPage Valley, lost in the Class 7A second round to Wheaton Warrenville South, ranked No. 20 in the final ESPNChicago.com 2010 poll

Season ahead: Wheaton North's problem last season was running into top-ranked Wheaton Warrenville South twice. The Falcons lost to the Class 7A state champs in the regular season and the playoffs. Although Wheaton North won't be able to avoid Wheaton Warrenville South this season, it does hope to be better prepared. The Falcons return six offensive starters, including three offensive linemen, two on the defensive side and all-conference kicker Marcin Gawlak. Their offense is expected to drive this year's team, at least until the defense gains some experience. Wheaton North could be in store from some early shootouts.

Star power: Kickers aren't normally stars, but Wheaton North has a special one in Marci Gawlak. The Falcons hope his leg will translate into extra points this season. "I wouldn't hesitate at all with him to kick a 50-yard field goal if the game warranted it," Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski said.

Breakout performer: Wide receiver Johnny Daniels is holding an offer from Ball State, but he could end up getting plenty more if his senior season goes as expected. Daniels, who is 6-2 and 200 pounds, showed off his size and athleticism throughout the summer. "He made some big plays for us as a junior," Wardynski said. "He was probably our No. 2 option last year. This year he should be the go-to guy."

Defensive difference-maker: Linebacker Mike Swider had a solid junior season, but he's expected to reach another level this season. As Wheaton North's main defensive starter back, Swider will be looked to lead in a variety of ways. "We're hoping he'll provide leadership for us," Wardynski said. "He had a nice junior year, and we hope he takes a step forward."

Newcomer to watch: Wheaton North has had some good luck in quarterbacks the past few years with Taylor Graham and Reece Butler. The Falcons hope junior John Peltz can continue the trend. At 6-2 and 215 pounds, Peltz has good size. He also has a strong arm and a football IQ. "He's got a really good head on his shoulders," Wardynski said. "He picks up what we're doing offensively."

Schedule breakdown: The DuPage Valley will be one of the state's toughest conferences again. Glenbard North, Naperville North and Wheaton Warrenville South will all be tough conference match ups for the Falcons. In addition, Wheaton North will face Bartlett and Geneva in back-to-back game to open the season. "Those two games will tell us a lot going into the conference," Wardynski said.

Key game: Oct. 21 at Wheaton Warrenville South: The Tigers handed Wheaton North two of its three losses last season. Beating Wheaton Warrenville South at home and in the regular-season finale would be a nice way to enter the playoffs for Wheaton North.

Interesting fact: Quarterback John Peltz and linebacker Mike Swider are cousins, and their fathers coach at Wheaton College.

What they're saying: "I'm not sure where the defense is going to come together," Wardynski said. "I'm interested to see how we do when we get out there. We looked okay in the summer, but when you line up Bartlett and Geneva in the first two weeks, you find out good or bad you are."
Scott Powers is a general reporter for ESPNChicago.com. He is an award-winning journalist and has been reporting on preps, colleges and pros for publications throughout the Midwest since 1997.

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