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From winless one year to the playoffs the next, Willowbrook's football team opened a lot of eyes with its dramatic improvement last season.
Opponents will want to keep their eyes on the Warriors again this season.
"Everything we talked about was changing the culture, and we've done that," said Willowbrook coach Nick Hildreth. "Now it's about continuing the culture and not being satisfied."
The Warriors continue the culture behind the return of their top offensive player, quarterback Brian Johnson, who threw for 2,167 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. As much as Willowbrook threw the ball last year, look for an even more potent passing game this time around with receivers Devin Childress, Hayden Adams and 6-foot-5 Kyle Rushing.
The offense won't revolve around the pass, though. Jeremy Barnes, who rushed for 1,036 yards, returns at running back, and junior David Harris saw varsity time as a sophomore. Jake DePaul is the lone returner to the offensive line.
"Last year the perception was that we threw the ball all over the place," Hildreth said. "But we ran the ball quite a bit and we'll do so again this year."
Adams will be a key contributor at receiver, but his main role will be a return to the secondary. He's the lone defensive starter back from last season, a massive graduation loss especially felt with the departure of three-year starting linebacker Dom Battaglia.
Defensive lineman Azzie Gallegos saw playing time last year, but beyond that it's a new unit, especially at linebacker. It may take time for the defense to get its varsity legs, but there's definite talent.
Four times last season the Warriors scored at least 40 points, hitting 60 and 53 points in consecutive weeks. If needed, Johnson and the offense can carry the load while the defense gains valuable game experience.
"Normally the defense is further along than the offense," Hildreth said. "But we had so many seniors graduate on that side of the ball, the defense is behind the offense so far. Hopefully, they'll get caught up quickly."
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