Preseason No. 10: Simeon

Last season: 11-1 overall, 5-0 Illini Red Bird, lost in the Class 7A quarterfinals to Lake Zurich, ranked No. 8 in the final ESPNChiago.com 2010 poll

Season ahead: Outside of Simeon’s program, plenty of people are curious whether this year’s team can become the first Chicago Public League one to win a state football championship.

Inside of the program, the Wolverines don’t speak of it.

“Never,” Simeon coach Dante Culbreath said. “Never talk about it, never talk about winning state. My focus and our focus is just to play hard. Play hard and be disciplined. I always tell the team and coaches through that, anything is possible. If that’s the desire and that’s the dream, do this, and we’ll see what happens after that.”

The bar has been raised at Simeon. Coming off last year’s Class 7A state quarterfinal appearance and quality wins over Mount Carmel, Morgan Park and Schaumburg, the Wolverines have proven they can compete with the state’s best.

That’s expected to be the case again this season. Simeon returns a bulk of its offense, including quarterback Robert Gregory and highly-recruited offensive lineman Jordan Diamond, and a number of key defensive players.

Star power: Simeon offensive lineman Jordan Diamond is ESPN’s highest ranked prospect in Illinois. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound lineman is ranked the No. 102 player in the Class of 2012 and the 14th offensive tackle. He’s being recruited by nearly every top program in the country. “He grew as far as his mindset and having more of a leadership role this year with the team,” Culbreath said. “He’s also worked hard in the weight room this offseason and put a little bulk on and got a little bit faster. We had a plan for him this offseason.”

Breakout performer: Junior Sharoid Roach steps into the lead halfback role with the graduation of Horactio Banks. Culbreath said he especially liked Roach’s football IQ.

Defensive difference-maker: Shaquille Joyner gives Simeon experience and skill at linebacker. Joyner has been receiving some Division I looks.

Newcomer to watch: Junior Devonate Lee, who is 6-6, will help fill one of Simeon’s holes in the offensive line.

Schedule breakdown: Simeon’s schedule is frontloaded. The Wolverines open the season with three tough games in Mount Carmel, Jefferson City, Mo. and Morgan Park. After that, the schedule loosens up. “If we don’t do them right, we could be 0-3,” Culbreath said. “We’re not looking to dodge anything. We’re not looking to run from anything. I like to throw them out there and see how they respond.”

Key game: Aug. 26 vs. Mount Carmel – Simeon shocked the state’s high school football scene when it defeated Mount Carmel in the season opener last season. It made everyone realize the Wolverines were for real. Mount Carmel will obviously be looking for revenge. This game will be part of tripleheader at Solider Field. “It’s Mount Carmel,” Culbreath said. “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.”

What they’re saying: “Expectations are for us to be a sound football team and play hard,” Culbreath said. “If I had an expectation, I just want these young boys to compete every day.”