If the last couple of football seasons showed anything, it's that the gap has narrowed in both divisions of the West Suburban Conference.
This year the Gold and Silver may be more competitive than ever.
Glenbard West still stands as a strong favorite to win its fifth straight Silver title, but expect a bevy of teams to challenge the Hilltoppers on a weekly basis. Hinsdale Central and Lyons Twp. appear to be the top challengers, while Oak Park also should be much improved.
Regardless, Glenbard West remains the team to beat with a mixture of top college-caliber talent and upcoming juniors from an extremely talented sophomore group. Experienced and tested, the Hilltoppers won't budge easily from the top spot.
"I personally think the Silver's going to be as good as it's ever been," said Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet. "It's an up year for just about everyone."
It's difficult to imagine Glenbard West being "up" from last year's dominant squad, but the Hilltoppers take a shot with a lineup returning six of their 10 starters on offense. Nathan Marcus, a Vanderbilt recruit, is the top receiver for quarterbacks Henry Haeffner and Drew Vogg, while Joey Zito and junior Scott Andrews reload the ground game.
Defensively, the Hilltoppers are led by lineman Ruben Dunbar -- whose offers include Michigan State, Illinois and Missouri -- linebacker Erik Strittmater and safety Hayden Carlson.
Hinsdale Central saw a dramatic turnaround last season when Brian Owens took over at quarterback, throwing for 1,843 yards and rushing for 247. Receiver Ian Bunting holds an offer from Purdue, while lineman Brian Allen boasts offers from half the Big Ten.
"We're in a position to compete in the conference," said Red Devils coach Rich Tarka, "but to compete with those upper teams we need maximum effort."
Keep an eye on Lyons Twp., which last season advanced to the Class 8A quarterfinals, and Northwestern-bound receiver Matt Harris. The Lions should be strong on both sides of the line.
York welcomes a new coach in Steve Nye, who led Brother Rice to 10 playoff berths including an 8A semifinal appearance in 2003. The Dukes' passing game should be strong led by quarterback Andrew Iwaszkiewicz and receiver Austin Wagner.
In the Gold last season, Addison Trail snapped Downers Grove South's string of four straight titles behind a 20-14 Week 9 victory. The Blazers return only four starters from that group as they bring up five sophomores.
"This group wants to make a name for itself," said Addison Trail coach Paul Parpet. "We're expecting to win the Gold again."
Downers South also lost significant talent but a trio of quarterbacks -- Paul Howatt, sophomore Jordan Skach and Benet transfer Mike Zebold -- will keep the offense rolling after the graduation of three-year starting running back Josh Williams.
Hinsdale South should make a move in its second year under coach Mike Barry, who brings back standout quarterback D.J. Deolitsis and 6-foot-3, 290-pound lineman Zach Guritz. Among Willowbrook's eight returning starters are three-year players Dom Battaglia, quarterback Steve Ferguson and lineman Nick Kilianek.
Leyden's prospects rest on seven returning starters on each side of the ball. The entire offensive line is back for returning running back Mickey Gulo.
"I'm not sure you can call anyone a clear-cut favorite in the Gold," said Willowbrook coach Nick Hildreth. "There are teams that can play all over the place."
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