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A year ago it was one and done for Central Suburban North football.
Deerfield was the only team from the conference to qualify for the playoffs and bowed out in the first round. Only three other leagues in the state with at least six teams had only their champion advance to the postseason.
But new Niles North coach Mark Egofske believes it will be a different story in late October when the 256-team playoff field is announced.
"I think the CSL North will be one of the most improved leagues in the state of Illinois," said Egofske, who coached Pittsburgh Steelers star running back Rashard Mendenhall and his brother Walter at Niles West.
Traditionally the division has been split with Deerfield, Highland Park and Glenbrook North vying for the title.
Deerfield (6-4, 5-0) all-conference safety Jake Balder, who also blocked 5 kicks last year, linebacker and standout kicker Michael Maki and two-way lineman Patrick Johnson are among seven returning defensive starters. Only two starters return from an option offense which accumulated 2,500 rushing yards.
"We'll have some growing pains on offense," said Deerfield coach Steve Winiecki. "We have to make sure we control the game on special teams and defense."
Highland Park (5-4, 4-1) lost the North title and a shot at the playoffs 45-21 in the season finale. The Giants will rely on running back Andrew Sledd (907 yards, 21 TDs), quarterback Tommy Sutker and punter-kicker Josh Pollack.
The good news for Glenbrook North (4-5, 3-2) is senior running back Grant Rushing is back. Rushing was the North offensive player of the year as a sophomore but was hurt last year.
"Individually or collectively there are good rushing teams in the conference," Winiecki said.
Egofske hopes Niles North (3-6, 2-3) can break into the upper half of the division with running backs Kris Achim and Colin Hancock working behind big linemen Eugene and James Edmond and 311-pound Jovaan Shaw. Six-foot-5 senior quarterback Billy Voitik is expected to make an impact after a big basketball season.
"Billy's best trait is his will to win in every competitive situation," Egofske said.
Maine East (1-8, 1-4) also expects to be more competitive with quarterback Alex Corey, tailback Gabe Corey and two-way lineman Almar Dankha among nine returning starters. Maine West (0-9, 0-5) looks to rebound with a more experienced team led by two-way standouts Danny Cardamone, Matt Finnander and Raul Anaya.