For the first time since 1997, there were co-champions atop the DuPage Valley Conference football standings last season.
Should we expect similar parity this season, or will a dominant team emerge once again? After co-champ Wheaton Warrenville South made it to the Class 7A final and Glenbard North and Naperville Central advanced to the 8A semifinals, another jumble may be on the way.
"If the conference was back last year, it's really back this year," said Naperville North coach Sean Drendel. "The star players may not be there, but there are some great groups of players."
WW South shared the title with Wheaton North after beating the Falcons in Week 9. Both again are considered favorites, although Glenbard North, Naperville Central and Naperville North also figure into the mix.
The Tigers return no defensive starters and lost do-it-all running back Dan Vitale to Northwestern. Still, they plan to defend the DVC title with an offense bolstered by an experienced line and a defense short on experience but tall on potential.
Junior quarterback Ryan Graham returns from an injury-plagued sophomore year and boasts one of the area's top receiving targets in Corey Davis, who holds an offer from Notre Dame, according to Tigers coach Ron Muhitch.
The offense should carry the team as the defense gains its varsity legs.
"Ryan had a great off-season," Muhitch said. "We feel real confident with him back there."
Wheaton North stakes its title defense on returning quarterback Johnny Peltz, who threw for 2,030 yards, and third-year running back Patrick Sharp, who ran for 931 yards. Beyond that, though, the Falcons must replace their entire line and receiving corps.
"We'll probably lean on the defense early in the year," said Falcons coach Joe Wardynski, who returns five starters on that side of the ball.
Glenbard North has the experience to challenge in the DVC and in Class 8A. Running back Justin Jackson is one of the state's top juniors after rushing for 1,467 yards. As talented as Jackson is on offense, he may be a better defensive player in the secondary.
The Panthers also return quarterback Brian Murphy, headed to Michigan on a wrestling scholarship, three offensive lineman and receiver Ryan Storto.
"For three of our teams to be in the semifinals last year is pretty impressive," said Panthers coach Ryan Wilkens. "It's going to be tough again this year."
Naperville Central graduated much of its offense, but the Redhawks are high on junior quarterback Jake Kolbe, running back Nick Thomas and receiver Blake Butler. The key will be replacing all-state defensive lineman Zach Borta on defense.
Naperville North offers one of the state's top offensive lines with Iowa-bound Colin Goebel, Dan Patton, Mike Langman and Ben Obriecht. Expect the Huskies to pound the ground game at opponents.
Glenbard East will be potent on offense with the return of quarterback Joe Kotch and the emergence of 6-foot-3 receiver Malysha Flanders, a running back last year. West Chicago has a new coach in Bill Bicker, a Wheaton North grad and former assistant with the Wildcats for seven years.
West Aurora takes another shot at its first playoff berth since 1994 behind a spread offense headed by quarterback Quintez Jones. The Blackhawks, however, need to rebuild their defense after graduating 10 of 11 starters.
"From experience I know the DVC is the toughest thing around," Bicker said. "It's as fast as high school football gets."
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