The last football teams on the field in November are the first teams talked about the following August.
This year in DuPage County is no different as Glenbard West and Montini defend their respective state titles. The journey officially starts Wednesday as teams throughout the state hit the practice field for the first time leading up to the season opener Aug. 30.
For the Hilltoppers last season's unbeaten romp to the Class 7A title capped a stellar multiyear run that met every level of success except an elusive state championship. Now that they've claimed the title for the first time since 1983, the goal is no different for 2013.
With only five losses the last five years, nothing less is expected than another state title. It's an attitude every player must have from Day One of practice.
"I was paranoid in the off-season about them being satisfied, but it hasn't been an issue," said Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet. "There's a complete buy-in from all the kids."
Several familiar faces return for Glenbard West in its quest to repeat. At the forefront are North Carolina State-bound offensive lineman Eric Shute;http://rivals.yahoo.com/footballrecruiting/football/recruiting/player-Eric-Shute-144615 and running back Scott Andrews, an All-Area pick last year who rushed for 1,300 yards.
As always, success for the Hilltoppers depends on the defense. The "Dark Side" will look a lot different, especially up front where Devante Toney is switching from fullback to bolster the defensive line.
Linebackers Grant Greeno and Jordan Hassan join safety Hayden Carlson in what should be another stellar unit.
No one, however, knows better than Glenbard West how tough life can be in Class 7A. Wheaton North, Wheaton Warrenville South, Downers Grove North and Benet are top challengers just in the Hilltoppers' backyard.
"With all the great teams out there, it doesn't matter what we did last year," Hetlet said. "We know we have to be at our best every week."
Montini already occupies an elite category in Illinois prep football -- schools that have won four or more consecutive state championships.
The Broncos' 19-6 Class 5A win over Morris last fall joined Joliet Catholic (1975-78), Mt. Carmel (1988-91), Providence Catholic (1994-1997) and topping them all, Driscoll, with seven straight titles from 2001-07.
Entering the 2013 season Montini will have some youth sprinkled throughout its lineup, and it lost the father-and-son tandem of offensive coordinator Lewis Borsellino and Western Illinois freshman receiver Joey Borsellino, among others.
Retirements and graduations, however, will be overshadowed by returning seniors such as Ohio State commit Dylan Thompson at defensive end, three-year linebacker Mike Maduko, quarterback Alex Wills, defensive lineman Edgar Ruano, offensive lineman Anthony Ferraro, cornerback Josh Belt and versatile Tyler Tumpane, who Montini's 35-year head coach Chris Andriano calls this season's Joey Borsellino.
Newcomers will add to the bounty. Foremost is linebacker Nile Sykes, who's received multiple college offers since transferring from Oak Park.
All this is why USA Today picks Montini 10th in Illinois.
Still, and even having won this summer's Wheaton Warrenville South Red Grange 7-on-7 Classic, Andriano said riding on four straight trophies can only mean so much.
"It's always our goal, is to win a state title," he said. "How many in a row you have, all that means is maybe a little extra tradition on the walls of your school. But each team starts over. This is a whole new team."
In recent seasons Montini teams played under the specter that Andriano, only the second football coach in school history, would soon be retiring. The Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee -- lifetime record of 256-119, five titles including the 2004 Class 4A championship -- had previously cited this season to be his last. As he had before.
Between Montini administration and Andriano's helpful, fictional "agent," that again may not be the case.
"This could be it," Andriano said, "but I wouldn't make a big deal about it because it may not be."
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