Willie Bourbon Stevenson
Will thrilled. All season. In his first varsity start, the sophomore quarterback threw for a school-record 343 yards and 3 touchdowns in an Opening Night win over eventual state quarterfinalist Lyons. He followed up with a 274-yard passing effort against another eventual playoff team, Homewood-Flossmoor, and the thrills kept coming during the course of the season. Bourbon made the Patriots' offense go, finishing the season with 155 completions in 280 attempts (55 percent) for 2,400 yards -- all school records. He also rushed for 401 yards and 5 TDs. "He was surrounded by great athletes and needed to distribute the football to them in many ways," coach Bill McNamara said. "He set several Stevenson quarterback records, indicating his understanding of what was asked of him. He is the complete QB. He is smart, athletic, reads defenses well, is a great passer, a great runner and has great size (6-1, 190) and speed. His numbers speak for themselves."
Anthony Bozin Stevenson
He did more than just play on offense, defense and special teams for the North Suburban Lake Division co-champs. He excelled in all three phases. Against Warren in a Round 1 playoff game, the speedy, versatile senior dominated on either side of the field. He caught a career-best 10 passes for 89 yards, rushed for 34 yards and 2 touchdowns and registered 2 interceptions and 6 tackles. For the season, the 5-9, 170-pound cornerback/running back/return man had 30 receptions for 294 yards, 136 rushing yards, 4 rushing TDs, 4 interceptions, 3 pass deflections and 1 fumble recovery. He also averaged 25.4 yards on 11 kickoff returns and 15.1 yards on 14 punt returns. He was a three-year varsity player. "Anthony Bozin was the most athletic player on our team," coach Bill McNamara said. "He is so versatile that we could not take him off the field. He started on offense and defense and made great contributions on special teams. He consistently made big plays in big games in all phases of the game."
Direll Clark Lakes
"Yards gained while being tackled" isn't an official statistic. But, odds are, Clark would have led the area if it was. Clark was tough to bring down, often carrying multiple defenders on his back as he gained a few more yards here and there. Over the last two years, the relentless Clark rushed for more than 3,000 yards and 40-plus touchdowns. This season, he was at around 1,500 yards and 21 touchdowns and averaged 8 yards per carry. "What makes Direll so special is his capacity to get yards after initial contact," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said of his senior running back. "His ability to almost always get us positive yards will be missed." The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Clark is being courted my multiple major Division I college programs.
Jack Deichl Libertyville
At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he looks like a quarterback. Getting the look didn't come without sacrifice, however. "The thing that's best about Jack is he works really hard at being a good quarterback," coach Mike Jones said. "He went to quarterback camps all off-season. He had a quarterback coach. He just really worked hard at the position to make himself better." The commitment paid off for Deichl, who directed an offense that put up 40 or more points five times. He completed 61.6 percent of his passes (159 of 258) for 2,048 yards with 16 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. In his second season as the Wildcats' starter, he led them to 8 victories and a second-round state playoff berth.
Luis Echeverria Grant
Echeverria, Grant's top offensive lineman, was as tenacious as, well, a Bulldog. "He was our little Bulldog," Grant coach Kurt Rous said of his senior captain. "Luis is a guy who just gets after it. He's nonstop and was the heart and soul of our team." A three-year starter on the offensive line, Echeverria was counted on heavily for his blocking and leadership in a run-heavy offense. This season, the Bulldogs rushed for 3,072 yards. "We've rushed for a lot of yards behind our offensive line and that starts with Luis," Rous said. "Last year, we had three guys who each had 1,000 yards. That's a big credit to Luis and he's gotten better each year."
TJ Edwards Lakes
He has a strong arm. He has fast wheels. But most importantly, Lakes quarterback TJ Edwards has "it." "He has that 'it factor,'" Lakes coach Luke Mertens said of Edwards, who is just a junior. "Our team believes in him. He was always the calming, yet motivational presence in our huddle each week." Edwards also kept himself calm in tough situations. Despite his relative inexperience, his decision-making was solid. He passed for 19 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions. Along the way, he rolled up 1,700 passing yards and completed 68 percent of his passes. But Edwards wasn't one-dimensional. He also rushed for 500 yards and 11 touchdowns. "TJ made the whole offensive unit go," Mertens said. "He is a true dual-threat quarterback, which prevented teams from loading up in the box to stop our running game."
AJ Fish Grayslake North
The season went swimmingly for Fish, who put up eye-popping numbers from start to finish en route to being named an all-state quarterback. With 3,734 total yards, Fish himself outgained the entire offenses of many teams in the area. Fish passed for 2,058 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 1,676 yards and 29 touchdowns. Along the way, Grayslake North put together its best season in school history and earned its very first playoff berth. "Obviously, AJ had a lot to do with that (team) success," Grayslake North coach Steve Wood said. "He's a kid who is just a winner. He finds ways to win and that's going to be hard to replicate next year." Fish, also a standout lacrosse player, will play college lacrosse at Virginia next year.
Geoff Gardner Grayslake North
Part of the reason Grayslake North quarterback AJ Fish was so potent this season is that he had a strong line protecting him. One of the leaders on that line was Gardner, a 6-foot-2, 270-pound, three-year starter for the Knights. Gardner helped pave the way for a school-record 5,500 yards of offense for Grayslake North. "Geoff was a selfless, hard worker for us who played a variety of positions on the line for us," Grayslake North coach Steve Wood said. "He also played some defensive line for us." The Grayslake North offensive line gave up just 12 sacks on the season and also had to be in phenomenal shape to keep up with an up-tempo no-huddle offense.
AJ Goggin Lakes
Quarterbacks did not like to see AJ Goggin coming their way. The senior defensive end was almost impossible to keep out of the backfield. Goggin ranks as the all-time sacks leader in Lakes history with 15.5 sacks. He rolled up 9 of those sacks this season to go along with 8 quarterback pressures. Goggin also finished with 40-plus tackles, including 12 tackles for a loss. "AJ's ability to play in our opponents' backfield is what made him so disruptive," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. "He was one of those defensive players that offenses had to account for in both the run and pass game." With a 4.5 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, Goggin is being recruited by Ivy League schools as well as Air Force.
Cody Gwinn Antioch
No one likes injuries. But the bright side to some early-season injuries at Antioch was the discovery that Gwinn wasn't just a difference-maker on defense. The senior also made big plays at fullback. "Cody was Antioch's best linebacker, until injuries forced us to make some moves," Antioch coach Brian Glashagel said. "After moving to fullback, Cody averaged 111 yards per game. He was a big bruising fullback who looked to run people over rather than around them. Defenses just got tired of tackling him." In five games on offense, Gwinn had 555 yards on 104 carries. On defense, he finished with 14 tackles, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Connor Iwema Warren
Listed as a wide receiver, Iwema made some of his biggest catches and best moves when he wasn't on offense. He was also Warren's top kickoff returner and punt returner. "Connor was just a complete football player," Warren coach Dave Mohapp said. "As a receiver and returner, he had speed to get down the field quickly. He did so many things for us and was a key guy that made us go. He was also a great blocker. I don't think I've ever had a receiver block like him." Iwema averaged 69 all-purpose yards per game. On the season, he caught 41 passes for 495 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Sean Lynch Lake Zurich
The kid can catch and wrap up. Note his state berth at 138 pounds in the Class 3A state wrestling meet last winter. Note his 31 tackles (27 solos) and team-leading 4 interceptions on the football field this season. The 5-foot-9, 165-pound junior is already a two-year varsity starter. "Sean Lynch is about as tough as they come, both mentally as well as physically," coach David Proffitt said. "Sean just brought so much to our team as far as his ability on both sides of the ball. He's very quiet, not a rah-rah kid. He leads by his actions." Lynch indeed excelled on offense, as well, for the Class 7A state semifinalist, rushing for 578 yards (6.2 average) and 9 touchdowns and catching 7 passes for 63 yards. He returned kicks and punts, too. "Wrestling really has helped him," Proffitt said, "as I would think football has helped his wrestling."
Connor Lynde Carmel Catholic
Never mind that the linebacker went from being a reserve at the start of last season to being his team's leading tackler this season. More amazing was the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder's game against Marist in Week 6. He made 6 straight tackles. "And they weren't right at him," coach Andy Bitto said. "They were like on the other side of the field." Lynde finished the game with 16 more tackles for a total of 22. "I've never had a kid get that many tackles in one game," Bitto said. "It's hard for me to believe those things, so then I started watching the tape even more closely, and those things did happen. We were real excited about him." In his first year as a full-time starter, Lynde racked up 104 stops, including 60 solos and 7 for loss. He also intercepted 2 passes, recovered 2 fumbles and recorded a safety. He's a straight-A student who produced another big number -- 29 -- on his ACT, helping him earn academic all-state honors. "He has a nonstop motor," Bitto said.
Matt Morrissey Stevenson
The more you see of Morrissey, the more you like. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound junior took his all-around game to another level in his second season as a two-way varsity starter, earning Class 8A all-state honors while helping the Patriots post 8 wins and earn a second-round playoff berth. The wide receiver/safety had 33 receptions for 563 yards (17.1 average) and 5 touchdowns, while also racking up 84 tackles, 2 pass deflections and an interception. He had 2-TD games against a pair of playoff teams, Lyons and Warren, and made 13 tackles against Class 6A state semifinalist Lake Forest. "Matt Morrissey is an incredible football player," coach Bill McNamara said. "He consistently makes plays as a wide receiver and safety. He is a go-to player at critical times in the game. Matt has all the physical and mental attributes you want in a football player and is a tough matchup for any team. Matt has that rare blend of size, speed and athletic ability."
Colton Moskal Lake Zurich
The Bears posted 6 shutouts and they might not have had a more disruptive player than the strongly built linebacker. In his second season as a varsity starter, the junior called the defense and posted a team-leading 93 tackles, including 71 solos. He had 6.5 sacks, 5 other stops for loss, recovered 3 fumbles, scored a pair of defensive touchdowns, notched a safety and even blocked 2 kicks. He had three double-digit tackle games, recording 11 against both Libertyville and Stevenson and registering 13 in the Bears' semifinal loss to eventual Class 7A state champ Glenbard West. "He is on his way to becoming a very, very good football player, possibly a D-I kid," coach David Proffitt said. "He's getting better at being a student of the game, which I believe playing in the Mike linebacker position in our scheme you have to be. He's an intelligent kid (academic all-state), and he's quick -- he's gotten a lot quicker -- and he refuses to lose. He may get beat on one play, but the next play it doesn't matter. He's already forgotten about that play, and he's coming after you the next play."
Zach Novoselsky Stevenson
Zach wouldn't allow a sack. He was too big, too good, too competitive. A three-year varsity player, he switched from tight end last year to starting left offensive tackle this season, "indicating his great mobility," coach Bill McNamara said. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound team captain helped the North Suburban Lake Division co-champs average 136.2 rushing yards per game, 219.4 passing yards per game and 27.4 points per contest. "Zach is a big and physical player that can run- and pass-block very well," McNamara said. "He was often responsible for the best defensive lineman on the opposing teams. Also, Zach is a great leader on and off the field."
Austin Piekarski Wauconda
"PK" proved better than OK when it came to catching the football. A two-year starter at wide receiver, he caught 30 passes for 530 yards (17.7 average) and 4 touchdowns in helping the Bulldogs return to the state playoffs for the first time since 2007. "Austin made the hard catch look easy and the impossible catch look routine," coach Dave Mills said. " He was known for going over the top of DBs to get the ball. At the same time, he knew where the sideline was and always had a foot in bounds. Austin is a good student and a great person. 'PK's' leadership, character and work ethic are the traits that helped Wauconda get back into the IHSA playoffs." An all-conference performer both on the field and in the classroom, Piekarski's 30 receptions this season placed him in the top five in school history. A two-sport athlete, he helped Wauconda's baseball team earn a berth in the state's Final Four last summer. "PK," Mills said, "is a winner."
Drake Randall Vernon Hills
When Randall hit a plateau in the weight room over the winter, he discovered that football wasn't the only sport that might be in his future. Competitive weight lifting could also be an option for the Vernon Hills senior lineman. "Drake is such a worker and he has a motor that jumps out at you. He's just nonstop," Vernon Hills coach Tony Monken said. "When he hit that plateau that most people hit in the weight room, he went out and took up a different style of lifting to help him bust through that plateau so that he could be ready for his senior season. He started doing Olympic-style lifting and he loved it. In his first competition he ended up getting seventh in the nation for his age and weight class." Randall has been just as successful on the football field. A three-year starter on the offensive line and a two-year starter on the defensive line, Randall helped the Cougars gain 6,477 rushing yards over his career. On defense this season, he finished with 22 tackles, including 2 tackles for a loss, 2 hurries, a sack and a caused fumble.
Drew Recker Lakes
The offense at Lakes, which averaged 42 points per game, got a lot of attention this season for its potency and prowess. The Lakes' defense might not have made the same kind of headlines, but it got the job done nonetheless. Senior safety Drew Recker made sure of it. He leaves Lakes as the all-time leading tackler in school history, thanks in part to the 90-plus tackles he rolled up this season alone. "Drew's ability to defend both the run and the pass is what made him so special to our defense," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. "He also had the responsibility of making our calls and ensuring that we were properly aligned. There will be no replacing a student-athlete of Drew's caliber." Recker, who boasts a 4.6 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, is being recruited by multiple Ivy League schools.
Joey Salata Libertyville
His performance and attitude the last two years helped heal a football program that had missed the playoffs in consecutive years. Those qualities figure to serve him well in the future. The academic all-stater has aspirations of becoming a doctor someday, coach Mike Jones said. "One of our assistant coach was saying, 'I'm not going to know what to do next year without Joe Salata at practice,' " Jones said of the senior, who's making his second straight appearance on the all-area team. "He's that kind of kid." Salata played both safety and, particularly later in the season, running back. He racked up 73 tackles and 2 interceptions, while also rushing for 237 yards (5.9 average) and 3 touchdowns. He helped lead the Wildcats to the playoffs for the second straight year. "He's a kid that's always in the right spot at the right time," Jones said. "He's a face of our program. If we want a kid that's a poster guy for our program, he's it because of the attitude that he carries in the weight room, in the classroom and on the field. His attitude is just unbelievable."
Connor Schrader Lake Zurich
Welcome back, Connor. The Bears were thrilled Schrader returned home. He lived in Lake Zurich when he was kid, moved south and played his freshman and sophomore years of football at Dunlap High. He returned to Lake Zurich the second semester of his sophomore year, and the Bears couldn't have been happier. His bust-ut senior campaign saw him rush for 1,222 yards (5.8 average) and 16 touchdowns, including a school record-tying 5 in the Bears' playoff-opening win over Crystal Lake South. His 242-yard rushing performance against Zion-Benton was third-best in school history. His 17 TDs (1 receiving) and 102 points also rank third-best for a single season. He finished with 1,705 career rushing yards. "Very durable," coach David Proffitt said of the muscular, 5-10, 200-pound running back/part-time defensive end. "Very coachable. High energy. Connor was constantly trying to improve and make himself better, every day at practice, every play."
Grant Soucy Lake Zurich
The accompanying head-and-shoulders shot should look familiar. Wherever Lake Zurich's student football fans traveled this season, they toted a giant cardboard cutout of Soucy's mug. The senior was popular with more than his schoolmates. His football team loved him too. A three-year varsity starter, the free safety/wide receiver played on both sides of the ball during the Bears' postseason run that ended in the Class 7A state semifinals. His 74 tackles (54 solos) hiked his career total to 170 (fifth most in school history). He posted double-digit tackles against Cary-Grove (13) and Rockton Hononegah (11). He also had 2 interceptions this season (5 for his career) and 3 passes defended. His postseason performance included a 96-yard fumble return for a touchdown. Offensively, he caught 9 passes, averaging 18.8 yards per catch. "Grant has improved so much over the three years that he's started for us on the varsity level," coach David Proffitt said of the former cornerback. "Grant's a heck of a lacrosse player, and he very easily could have gotten into some clubs, but he said no, he's going to play football. He became a very good student of the game. He watched a lot of film with (assistant) coach (Shane) Williams. Almost every day they would break down film."
Austin Swenson Wauconda
The senior continued a recent trend: strong quarterback play for the Bulldogs. Following in the footsteps of Brian Kent and Branden Rowe, Swenson made the most of his senior year, coach Dave Mills said, throwing for 1,826 yards (second most in school history) and leading the Bulldogs to the playoffs for the first time in five years. He completed 126 passes, including 17 for touchdowns, while throwing just 4 interceptions. He led an offense that totaled nearly 3,000 yards. " 'Sweny' is a great leader on the field," Mills said of the three-sport athlete, who also plays basketball and baseball. "His ability to read defenses and audible created a lot of big plays for the team. 'Sweny' showed how hard work on and off the field leads to success. Austin helped create a winning team, and that's what a team needs from its QB."
Kevin Verkler Libertyville
An All-American lacrosse player last spring, the senior knows how to stick people. He's relentless on the football field, too, and that includes practice. The linebacker never wanted to take a break. "You try to keep some of your starters off scout," coach Mike Jones said. "He was always jumping in there. 'Hey, I want to give them a good look.' " Verkler led the eight-win Wildcats in tackles with 104, while also forcing 3 fumbles and intercepting a pass. "He just had a motor," Jones said. "He improved from last year to this year in his mental approach to the game. He did a great job of reading his keys and communicating with other players. He's a guy that just looked to make the team better."
Jonathan Wells Grant
Just a junior, Wells is expected to be one of the top running backs in Lake County next season. He's been starting since his sophomore year and his stock is still rising. "I hope that next year he's able to repeat a lot of what he's already done," Grant coach Kurt Rous said. Note that Rous said "a lot," and not everything. One thing that no one wants Wells to duplicate is all the time he spent on the sideline this season. Wells missed the last five games of the season with a serious shoulder injury that required surgery. Yet, Wells still finished the season at Grant's leading rusher (770 yards), which is saying something on a team that rolled up 3,000-plus rushing yards. Wells, who averaged 6.8 yards per carry, also tied for first for most touchdowns on the team at 10. "Jonathan is an explosive and powerful runner," Rous said. "We were impressed with his physicality even as a sophomore and he keeps getting better."
Kyle Whitman Grant
Whitman experienced a couple of scenery changes this season. First he moved from his familiar position of fullback to quarterback, where he started on Opening Night. That change worked pretty well until Whitman was forced into his next new spot: the sideline. Whitman missed all or part of six games this season, the last five with a knee injury. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament against Lakes and was forced to sit out the rest of the season. Despite all that bench time, Whitman finished with 650 rushing yards (5.9 yards per carry) out of Grant's option attack and also passed for 251 yards (17.9 yards per completion). Whitman scored a total of 12 touchdowns. "When Kyle was under center, our offense was usually running smoothly," Grant coach Kurt Rous said. "He was an integral part of our triple option. He was unselfish, he worked hard and he took a lot of pride in what he did. We felt so bad that he had to miss so much of the season."
Davonte Willcox Warren
When there was a way, there was, so to speak, a Willcox. One of the biggest strengths of Willcox was his ability to make a big play out of very little. "He could go the distance from anywhere on the field," Warren coach Dave Mohapp said of his senior running back. "If Davonte got a crack of daylight, there was a good chance he could go the distance and score. We've had a lot of good running backs at Warren over the years and he's right up there with them. He's got outstanding speed." Willcox rolled up 821 rushing yards and 374 receiving yards. He averaged 135 all-purpose yards per game for Warren.
Eric York Grayslake North
All the big plays that Grayslake North quarterback AJ Fish made this season originated with York. He was the Knights' trusty center, just as he was last year as a junior. "I don't know if Eric made any mistakes at center, no fumbled snaps, nothing like that," Grayslake North coach Steve Wood said. "That's huge." The numbers that the offense put up behind York were also huge. The Knights rolled up a school-record 5,500 yards of offense this season. Along the way, the offensive line gave up just 12 sacks on the season and also had to be in phenomenal shape to keep up with an up-tempo no-huddle offense.
Player School Yr. Pos.
Willie Bourbon Stevenson So. QB
Anthony Bozin Stevenson Sr. RB/CB
Direll Clark Lakes Sr. RB
Jack Deichl Libertyville Sr. QB
Luis Echeverria Grant Sr. OL
TJ Edwards Lakes Jr. QB
*AJ Fish Grayslake North Sr. QB
Geoff Gardner Grayslake North Sr. OL/DL
AJ Goggin Lakes Sr. DE
Cody Gwinn Antioch Sr. FB
Connor Iwema Warren Sr. WR
Sean Lynch Lake Zurich Jr. CB/RB
Connor Lynde Carmel Catholic Sr. LB
Matt Morrissey Stevenson Jr. S/WR
Colton Moskal Lake Zurich Jr. LB
Zach Novoselsky Stevenson Sr. OT
Austin Piekarski Wauconda Sr. WR
Drake Randall Vernon Hills Sr. OL/DL
Drew Recker Lakes Sr. FS
Joey Salata Libertyville Sr. S/RB
Connor Schrader Lake Zurich Sr. RB/DL
Grant Soucy Lake Zurich Sr. FS/WR
Austin Swenson Wauconda Sr. QB
Kevin Verkler Libertyville Sr. LB
Jonathan Wells Grant Jr. RB
Kyle Whitman Grant Sr. QB
Davonte Willcox Warren Sr. RB
Eric York Grayslake North Sr. OL
Noah Allgood (Lake Zurich Jr. QB/TE/LB), Josh Aranda (Mundelein Sr. OLB/TB), Brad Baker (Grayslake North So. WR), Jerry Bauer (Lake Zurich Sr. OL/DL), Justin Bergeron (Lakes Sr. WR/LB), Brett Blum (Carmel Catholic Sr. LB), Titus Booker (Grayslake North So. RB), Sean Brennan (Carmel Catholic Sr. DB/RB), David Collins (Grayslake North Sr. LB/RB), OL Jacob Craft (Antioch Sr. OL), Matt Crisp (Carmel Catholic Sr. OL/DL), Troy Crow (Lakes Sr. LB), Nick Dillon (Stevenson So. DT), Dillon Falotico (Lakes Sr. OL), Jordan Freibrun (Vernon Hills Jr. FS/QB), Erik Fuller (Wauconda Sr. DE/TE), Cameron Green (Stevenson So. WR), OL Dan Haeffele (Grant Sr. OL), Erik Johnson (Warren Sr. LB), Jack Johnson (Antioch Sr. DE), Terrel Jones (Warren Sr. OL), Dan King (Grant Sr. LB), Drew Krinitsky (Libertyville Sr. LB), Chris Lannan (Vernon Hills Jr, OL/DL), Nate Magiera (Wauconda Jr. DE), Joe Marchese (Stevenson Sr. C), Ted McGraw (Grayslake Central Sr. DB), Keion Miller (Grant Sr. DB/WR), David Pierce (Vernon Hills Sr. LB), Adam Reuss (Warren Sr. QB), Robert Rossdeutcher (Lake Zurich Sr. LB/SS), OL Justin Seyter (Antioch Sr. OL), Conor Simpson (Libertyville Jr. RB), Vince Smith (Grayslake North Sr. DB/WR), Andrew Spencer (Lakes Sr. WR/S), Luke Stancil (Grayslake Central Sr. DT), David Starkey (Wauconda Sr. RB/LB), Ty Summers (Lakes Sr. OL/DL), Ryan Sweeney (Warren Sr. FS), Rocky Triggiano (Lake Zurich Sr. DL), Francisco Uribe (Grant Jr. DL), Alan Velev (Stevenson Sr. WR), Josh Walinski (Carmel Catholic Sr. FB), Shayne White (Warren Sr. OL), Austin Williams (Libertyville Sr. WR/K), Zach Willamson (Round Lake Sr. DE/RB)
Selections and profiles by Patricia Babcock McGraw and Joe Aguilar