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Wheaton Academy's football off-season saw plenty of change. Fortunately not with the big boys in the trenches.
A goal of making the playoffs for the first time since 2009 will be tough with Montini, Aurora Christian and Marian Central on the Warriors' schedule. If it happens a main reason will be new coach Brad Thornton's veteran linemen.
Headed by the all-Suburban Christian Gold duo of left tackle Taylor Johnson and center Daniel Sedjo, Wheaton Academy also brings back left guard Theo Selvaggio, right guard David Westfallen and right tackle Chris Williams, each a returning starter or key contributor up front. All benefitted from the training program of one-year coach T.J. Ragan, now an assistant at Taylor University.
"We're excited about what we have there, and it'll be something to keep an eye on as we start the season," said Thornton, a former Cary-Grove and Wheaton College player initially hired out of Evangelical Christian in Memphis as a defensive coordinator then named interim head coach.
Also watch returning all-conference running back and linebacker John Gemmel. This little block of granite ran for 872 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2012. Thornton also sees Camden Meade, David Leffler and Luis Ramos running the ball in his "multiple" offense.
Shifting from receiver, Nathan Lopez succeeds the graduated Nate Martinez at quarterback. Thornton called Lopez a "phenomenal athlete" who made smart decisions in 7-on-7 play this summer.
Lopez and junior wideouts Sam Martinez and Luke Doncel will soak up the wisdom of new assistants and former Wheaton College All-Americas Brad Musso and Steve Thonn. That is cause for excitement.
Injuries could take a toll since some principals will play both ways. Skill positions offensively and defensively must be shored up, Thornton said.
But his seniors, sensing urgency, look at that big line and think playoffs.
"I'd say that's a goal," Thornton said, "and for some of these guys that is an expectation, too."
Coach: Brad Thornton (first year).
2012 record: 4-5, 4-3, tied for first in the Suburban Christian Gold.
Top players: John Gemmel (RB-LB, 5-7, 190, sr.), Taylor Johnson (OL-DL, 6-7, 290, sr.), Nathan Lopez (QB, 6-0, 185, sr.), Camden Meade (RB-LB, 6-1, 215, jr.), Daniel Sedjo (OL-DL, 6-0, 240, sr.).
Fri, 8/30 Wheaton Academy at Westminster 5 p.m.
Fri, 9/6 Chicago Bulls Acad at Wheaton Acad 7 p.m.
Fri, 9/13 Montini at Wheaton Academy 7 p.m.
Fri, 9/20 Wheaton Academy at Aurora Christian 7 p.m.
Sat, 9/28 Walther Lutheran at Wheaton Acad 1 p.m.
Sat, 10/5 Guerin Prep at Wheaton Academy 1 p.m.
Fri, 10/11 Wheaton Academy at St. Edward 7 p.m.
Fri, 10/18 Wheaton Acad at Chicago Christian 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/25 Marian Central at Wheaton Academy 7:30 p.m.