High School: Southwest Suburban Blue
1. What a career: Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti is on the verge of breaking the state’s career wins record. He entered in a tie with former Richards coach Gary Korhonen after last Friday’s victory. He will likely break the 306-win record against St. Joseph on Saturday. Lenti has a 306-54 record in his 28 years. He’s won nine state championships and played in 14 state title games. He hasn’t shown signs he’s going to slow down anytime soon either. Maybe he can go for 400.
2. Game-time decision: As of Friday morning, I had planned to attend the Lockport-Lincoln-Way East game. But after some thought, I decided Crystal Lake South at Cary-Grove had a better chance to be a good game. It was one of my smarter decisions. Lincoln-Way East routed Lockport, and the Crystal Lake South-Cary-Grove game was an instant classic. Both teams showed they’re among the area’s best defensive teams. Cary-Grove held a 7-0 lead into the fourth quarter, but Crystal Lake South responded with a touchdown. And then after missing a 52-yard field goal attempt horribly earlier in the game, Crystal Lake South’s Brad Walovitch redeemed himself by nailing a 51-yarder for the game-winner in the final seconds. It doesn’t exactly top Week 1’s Carmel-Joliet Catholic game, but it was a good one.
3. Mr. Endurance: I don’t think I’ve seen anyone on the field as much as Crystal Lake South’s Brad Walovitch was against Cary-Grove. He punted. He kicked field goals. He caught passes. He broke up passes. He rushed with the ball. He not only did those things, but he did them at a high level. He’s one of the more impressive athletes I’ve witnessed this season.
4. Southwest Suburban representing: You have to consider the Southwest Suburban Blue as one of the top conferences in the state this season. Bolingbrook, Homewood-Flossmoor and Lincoln-Way East are all ranked and have outscored their opponents 436-83. Plus, you have an undefeated Sandburg and Lockport, which is 2-1. I’m planning to be at Friday’s game between Homewood-Flossmoor and Lincoln-Way East. It should be a good one.
5. Getting defensive: There have been a number of teams that have put up a big number of points this season. But what about elite defensive teams? There are definitely fewer of those. Here are some of the top defensive teams so far -- St. Edwards (has allowed 6 points this season), Lemont (6), Downers Grove South (7), Glenbard West (10), Crystal Lake South (13) and Prairie Ridge (14).
No. 15 Montini (0-0) at No. 5 Joliet Catholic (0-0) on Friday
The story: This is the perfect game to open the 2010 high school football season. These two teams met in the Class 5A state championship in November with Montini edging the Hilltoppers 29-28 with a touchdown and two-point conversion with 32 seconds remaining. Joliet Catholic would like to redeem itself with a win here, but Montini is also out to prove last year’s victory wasn’t a fluke. Both teams will be starting a new quarterback.
Montini player to watch: Senior Matt Westerkamp takes over at quarterback for the Broncos. He doesn’t have the arm of last year’s quarterback Brandon Pechloff, but he does have size at 6-2, some speed and knows the offense.
Joliet Catholic player to watch: Junior running back Malin Jones torched Montini for 141 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s state championship game. He and fellow running back Josh Ferguson will be the keys to this game again.
Quote: “According to everyone, we are the underdogs again,” Montini coach Chris Andriano said. “We don’t care. We’ll line up and play. We’ll line up and play anytime, anywhere. We’ll line up in the parking lot if you want.”
Prediction: Joliet Catholic 40, Montini 35
No. 6 Fremd (0-0) at No. 9 Lake Zurich (0-0) on Friday
The story: Fremd and Lake Zurich played in one of the more dramatic season-opening games last season with Fremd pulling out a 10-7 win at home. The Bears will now get a chance to avenge that result at their place. Both teams lost a couple key pieces from last year, but they also return a couple key ones. Both teams should be in contention for a state title this season.
Fremd player to watch: Senior Justin Wallace came up big in last year’s win over Lake Zurich with a blocked field goal and a fumble recovery. Wallace will be a key defensive player again this season, but will also be one of the main running backs.
Lake Zurich player to watch: Running back Jacob Brinlee is one of the state’s most electrifying players. He has the speed and vision to pop a long one at any time. He had a 73-yarder last season against Fremd.
Quote: “We need to win the turnover battle, win in the special teams’ phases of the game and negate their size with our speed,” Lake Zurich coach Bryan Stortz said. “They’re fundamentally sound and well coached.
Prediction: Fremd 14, Lake Zurich 13
No. 2 Wheaton Warrenville South (0-0) at No. 19 Hinsdale Central (0-0) on Friday
The story: Wheaton Warrenville South began its state championship run with a season-opening 34-26 win over Hinsdale Central last season. Wheaton Warrenville South returns a bulk of its team from last season and is the favorite to repeat in Class 7A. The Red Devils have some returnees, especially on the offensive line, but they did graduate all-state quarterback John Whitelaw. Hinsdale Central plans on using a platoon system at quarterback for now. Hinsdale Central could have a chance at home, but it needs to limit its errors.
Wheaton Warrenville South player to watch: All eyes will be on Illini recruit quarterback Reilly O’Toole. Everything points to him having a monstrous season for the Tigers.
Hinsdale Central player to watch: Center Jack Allen is one of the premier offensive linemen in the state. He’s big, but he’s also quick. He recently committed to Michigan State.
Quote: “Wheaton Warrenville South does everything well,” Hinsdale Central coach Mike DiMatteo said. “They are not the great program they are for no reason. … We need to keep O’Toole in check as much as we can. He’s the best QB in the state this year, and we will have our hands full.”
Prediction: Wheaton Warrenville South 35, Hinsdale Central 20
Bolingbrook (0-0) at No. 14 Downers Grove South (0-0) on Friday
The story: This has turned into one of the more exciting non-conference rivalries. Last year, Bolingbrook blocked a late field goal attempt to beat the Mustangs in the season opener. Downers Grove South got its revenge during the playoffs by knocking Bolingbrook out with a late comeback win. This is the last scheduled meeting for the teams, but they could of course meet in the playoffs again this year and in the future.
Bolingbrook player to watch: Linebacker Antonio Morrison is one of the key defensive players the Raiders will be looking to this season.
Downers Grove South player to watch: Wide receiver Ryan Oruche can beat a team in a variety of ways. He can run, catch and even pass if needed. Bolingbrook’s defense will have its hands full with him.
Prediction: Downers Grove South 28, Bolingbrook 17
No. 1 Maine South (0-0) at Schaumburg (0-0) on Friday
The story: Maine South is the team everyone is shooting for again. The Hawks are riding a 28-game winning streak into the season. They’re not as offensively powered as the past few years, but their defense should be among the state’s best. Schaumburg just missed the top 20. The Saxons have a lot of offense back, especially quarterback Mark Iannotti and running back Shepard Little.
Maine South players to watch: No decision was made on Maine South’s quarterback, so sophomore Matt Alviti and junior Jimmy Frankos will both play against Schaumburg. Both have shown promise throughout the offseason.
Schaumburg player to watch: Shepard Little rushed for 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2008. He sat out last season due a disciplinary issue and is back again. If he can return to form, the Saxons will be a team to watch this season.
Quote: “They are obviously talented and play extremely hard,” Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling said. “Our kids need to stay focused on doing their jobs and resist the temptation to try anything special.”
Prediction: Maine South 31, Schaumburg 21
Glenbrook South (0-0) at No. 18 Minooka (0-0) on Friday
The story: Minooka is out to prove it belongs with the elite teams this season. Glenbrook South is out to show that it can reload after losing a number of stars from last season’s quarterfinal team. After this game, we should know a little more about both teams. Minooka will look to control the ball. It will be important for Glenbrook South to stay away from turnovers. The Titans will be missing four players to injury and another due to suspension.
Glenbrook South player to watch: John Strickland steps into the spotlight for the Titans. He’s moved from linebacker to fullback and will likely see a bulk of the carries.
Minooka player to watch: Zach Colvin, a Division I recruit, will be playing both ways to start the season. He’s a dominant a defensive end, but it may slow him down having to be on offense as well.
Quote: “Week 1 is always tough,” Minooka coach Bert Kooi said. “No matter how much time you have spent with your team, you never really completely know what to expect until you see them in a game situation.”
Prediction: Minooka 20, Glenbrook South 14
No. 20 Oak Park at Glenbard North on Friday
The story: Oak Park is one of the sleeper picks for the 2010 season. The Huskies are coming off a 5-5 season and have a bulk of their team back. If they’re going to take another step this season, this game would be a good start. Glenbard North beat them 33-21 last season. The Panthers lost some talent from last year’s 11-2 team, but they’re still among the area’s best.
Oak Park player to watch: Running back Tony Stapleton rushed for 1,300 yards as a junior. He has a number of Division I schools looking at him.
Glenbard North player to watch: Running back/linebacker Evan Natick battled through injuries last season. Now healthy, he should make an impact on both sides of the ball.
Quote: “We need to be able to run the football and stop the run,” Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens said. “They run the ball well.”
Prediction: Oak Park 21, Glenbard North 20
Edwardsville (0-0) vs. No. 7 Lincoln-Way East (0-0) at Illinois State on Saturday
The story: Lincoln-Way East opens its season with a non-area opponent. Edwardsville is expected to be one of the top St. Louis-area teams this season. It went 6-4 last year and returns Rodney Coe, one of the state’s top athletes. Lincoln-Way East is familiar with teams from that area. The Griffins defeated Belleville West in the opening round of the playoffs and then were upset by O’Fallon in the second round. Lincoln-Way East’s defense should be among the state’s best again this season.
Edwardsville player to watch: Running back Rodney Coe is being recruited by nearly every top program in the country. He will be a good first test for the Griffins’ defense.
Lincoln-Way East player to watch: Quarterback Blake Winkler makes his debut. Winkler has drawn comparisons to former Griffins quarterback Anthony Kropp, who led the team to a state championship in 2005.
Prediction: Lincoln-Way East 30, Edwardsville 21
No. 11 Mount Carmel vs. Simeon at Soldier Field on Sunday
The story: These Chicago south side foes met twice last season with Mount Carmel winning both games. The Caravan won the season opener 53-27, but their second meeting was closer with Mount Carmel winning 19-14. Mount Carmel had an up-and-down 2009 season and is looking to return to dominance this year. Simeon just missed out of the top-20 rankings and should be the class of the Public League this season.
Mount Carmel player to watch: Michael Banks has moved from wide receiver to running back. He has great speed and could flourish in the Caravan’s triple-option system.
Simeon player to watch: Chris Bryant is one of the state’s top offensive linemen. He’s also one of the biggest as he comes in at 6-5 and 330 pounds.
Prediction: Mount Carmel 28, Simeon 14
No. 8 Providence (0-0) vs. Morgan Park (0-0) at Soldier Field on Sunday
The story: Providence is coming off a dream season where nearly everything seemed to go the Celtics way. They return a strong offensive line and quality linebackers, but they need to replace stars Pete Houlihan and Tim Hanrahan. Morgan Park is coming off a 9-3 season. The Mustangs upset Brother Rice at Soldier Field last season.
Providence player to watch: Senior quarterback Joey Houlihan returns for the Celtics. He was key in Providence’s run to the Class 6A state championship game last season.
Morgan Park player to watch: Junior Deshaun Hurley takes over at quarterback for Morgan Park. He did get some experience there last season.
Prediction: Providence 34, Morgan Park 19
Last season: 9-2 overall, 6-1 Southwest Suburban Blue, lost in 7A second round
Season ahead: Throughout most of the 2009 season, Lincoln-Way East was considered to be in the same category with the state’s elite teams.
Aside from a hiccup against Bolingbrook during the regular season, the Griffins were unstoppable. They scored 39.2 points a game and allowed only 11.1. Their 28.1 average margin of victory was on par with eventual state champions Cary-Grove, Maine South and Wheaton Warrenville South.
When the playoffs arrived, though, the comparison between the Griffins and those state powers ended. Lincoln-Way East stumbled in the second round and was upset by fifth-seeded O’Fallon.
“We felt our season ended too abruptly,” Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar said. “It was a wake-up call for us. It was a lesson for our football team that you not only can’t take a single week for granted, but you can’t take one single day for granted.”
The Griffins are riding that mentality this season. With a number of returnees on both sides of the ball, Lincoln-Way East is looking to start off as it did last season, but end it differently.
Offensively, the Griffins’ strength looks to be its offensive line. Joe Mizera, a Division-I prospect, Russ Nolan and Mike Pokorney all return on the line. The line will be blocking for a new quarterback, junior Blake Winkler, and a new backfield. Winkler, who started on the sophomore team last year, has drawn comparisons to former Griffins quarterback Anthony Kropp, who led the team to a state championship in 2005.
“He has a great IQ and great arm strength,” Zvonar said. “He’s confident in the huddle.”
On the defensive side, Lincoln-Way East should be dominant again. Defensive linemen DeAndre Slate, another D-I prospect, Ian Luscombe, Dimitri Simmons and Joel Magrum have size and speed. Patrick Meehan, a Colorado State recruit, and Jimmy Wilson should give the Griffins a strong presence at linebacker. Defensive back Collin Hickey also returns.
Player to watch: Linebacker Patrick Meehan was one of the main reasons the Griffins held opponents to so few points last year. Meehan had 77 tackles, six tackles for a loss and two sacks last year. He’s a combination of power and speed.
Newcomer to watch: Junior quarterback Blake Winkler
Key game: Oct. 8 vs. Bolingbrook -- The Raiders were the lone team to defeat Lincoln-Way East in the Southwest Suburban Blue last season, and Bolingbrook left no doubt about it with a 46-24 victory. The Griffins will be looking for revenge and a shot at another conference title.
What they’re saying: “We’re cautiously optimistic,” Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar said. “We’re built a lot more on experience and youth this year. It’s a little bit of the unknown when you have so many players who have not had game experience. You can simulate all you want, but you don’t know until you get out there.”