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Last season Neuqua Valley enjoyed its best football season ever. Coach Bill Ellinghaus sees little falloff.
"I think the kids are thrilled about what happened last year, but I don't think they're willing to sit on their past, either," he said.
Receiver Mikey Dudek was among those who led Neuqua to its first state semifinal and first conference title since 2006. An Illinois recruit with sub-4.4 speed, he's unstoppable as a slot receiver. At less than 100 percent due to injury, Dudek caught 46 passes for 991 yards and 14 touchdowns and added 412 yards and 3 touchdowns on kick returns with a program-tying 99-yarder.
Also returning are receivers Nathan Hill and Ryan Kuhl, whose memorable late touchdown catch helped deal Waubonsie Valley its sole regular-season loss.
Ellinghaus doesn't expect anyone to replace tailback Joey Rhattigan, who finished as Neuqua's single-season and all-time rushing leader. He does figure the junior tandem of T.J. Scruggs and Nolan Dean will be "excellent." Scruggs ran for 433 yards and 8 touchdowns last season while Dean, fourth in tackles at linebacker, will be a first-time featured back.
There were some questions entering the Blue-and-Gold scrimmage. Ellinghaus was debating between quarterback candidates Conner Milliren, Broc Rutter and Matt Perrigo. The offensive line returns only Sai Klein with starting experience. Seven Neuqua offensive linemen are listed weighing at least 250 pounds, though only Klein and Caleb Scott are seniors.
The defense, which must replace each starting linebacker but returns Evan Cherney and Connor Swier with reps, will be centered around rock-solid nose tackle Godfrey Collins, who made 57 tackles with 8 for loss. Ellinghaus really likes a defensive line of Collins between ends Devon Griffin and Marcel Hurtado. Cornerback Kyle Boonyong leads a good but young secondary.
Young or not, Neuqua's got numbers, talent, drive, mojo.
"We had a great year last year, and I feel like these kids worked hard enough to get back in that position," Ellinghaus said.
Coach: Bill Ellinghaus (second year, 12-1).
2012 record: 12-1, 6-0, first in the Upstate Eight Valley.
Top players: Kyle Boonyong (DB, 5-9, 150, sr.), Evan Cherney (LB, 6-1, 200, sr.), Godfrey Collins (DL, 5-10, 240, sr.), Nolan Dean (RB, 6-1, 190, jr.), Mikey Dudek (WR, 5-11, 180, sr.), Devon Griffin (DL, 6-2, 220, sr.), Nate Hill (WR, 5-9, 150, sr.), Sai Klein (OL, 6-3, 285, sr.), Ryan Kuhl (WR, 6-4, 185, sr.), T.J. Scruggs (RB, 5-11, 210, jr.),
Fri, 8/30 Naperville North at Neuqua Valley 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/6 Neuqua Valley at Naperville North 7 p.m.
Fri, 9/13 South Elgin at Neuqua Valley 7 p.m.
Fri, 9/20 St. Charles East at Neuqua Valley 7 p.m.
Fri, 9/27 Neuqua Valley at East Aurora 7 p.m.
Fri, 10/4 Metea Valley at Neuqua Valley 7 p.m.
Fri, 10/11 Neuqua Valley at Waubonsie Valley 7 p.m.
Fri, 10/18 West Chicago at Neuqua Valley 7 p.m.
Fri, 10/25 Neuqua Valley at Bartlett 7 p.m.