Preseason No. 10 - Naperville North

Boston College recruit Nick Lifka should have a bigger impact at linebacker this season because he won't be playing offense. Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.com

No. 10 Naperville North

Last season: 5-5 overall, 3-4 DuPage Valley, eliminated in 8A first round.

Season ahead: What happened last year?

It’s the question Naperville North has had to answer multiple times since going 5-5 last year. They had won a state championship in 2007 and went undefeated in 2008. The Huskies had the makings of another great team in 2009. They had Division I-caliber players, size and depth.

Unfortunately, they weren’t injury proof.

“More than anything, I don’t like to make excuses, but we had a lot of injuries, a lot we weren’t accustomed to,” said first-year coach Sean Drendel, who was a varsity assistant. “We are a big school, but anytime you lose 10 linemen up front it takes a big hit on your program and especially in our conference. As the year went on, people saw our vulnerability.”

Entering the 2010 season, Naperville North has a lot of similarities to its 2009 team. The Huskies again look as if they could contend for state. This year, they just hope to stay away from the injuries.

Offensively, Naperville North’s backfield is stacked. Senior running backs Antonio Owens and Nick Sianta are back. Juniors Danny Pukaitis and Raheem Martin should make an impact as well.

“We have three positions for running backs, and we’ll rotate 6-9 guys in those positions,” Drendel said. “We’ll create proper match-ups and give them the ball in what they excel at the most. There will be more situational substitutes, which is not something we’ve done in the past.”

The Huskies will have size on its line with the linemen averaging around 250 pounds. David Meyerhoff and Soern Osborne are returning starters. Quarterback Matt LaCosse, who is committed

to Minnesota as a tight end, also is returning and is expected to be the team’s leader this season.

The team’s depth in the backfield will allow linebacker Nick Lifka, who is committed to Boston College, to concentrate solely on defense. He played fullback as well last year. Defensive linemen Pat Meath and Brandon Williamson also return. Nick Krejci and Anthony Panagos have both moved to the defense after being offensive line starters last season.

Player to watch: Nick Lifka was one of the state’s most dominant linebackers last year while also playing fullback. Watch for his numbers to increase now as he’ll only be playing defense.

Newcomer to watch: Junior running backs Danny Pukaitis and Raheem Martin.

Key game: Sept. 24 at Wheaton Warrenville South -- The Tigers are still the team to go through in the DuPage Valley. Naperville North could make a large statement with a win at Wheaton Warrenville South.

What they’re saying: “Anytime you have a year that doesn’t reach your standards, everyone is motivated,” Naperville North coach Sean Drendel said. “As coaches, it’s motivated us to work a little bit harder and get our hands a little dirtier than we have before. It was kind of a wake-up call for us. I don’t think we’re doing anything differently, but it motivates you a little bit more.”