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updated: 8/23/2013 8:29 AM

Huntley looking for bigger, better things

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  • Senior Mitchell Kawell takes off with the ball during the first day of practice at Huntley.

      Senior Mitchell Kawell takes off with the ball during the first day of practice at Huntley.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer


These aren't your uncle's quaint Huntley Redskins of yesteryear.

With a successful, veteran coach in his second year at the high school, a recently finished, state-of-the-art stadium renovation project complete with a synthetic turf playing surface, over 200 participating players at the high school level and 500 more learning the game at the youth level, Huntley's citizenry qualifies as downright football frenzied.

It's getting to the point the town leaders may have to reword the friendly town motto to "the football village with country charm."

"And we had at least 3,000 people at every game last year," coach John Hart said of a town with an estimated 25,000-plus residents as of 2011. "The community is so supportive of the program. They want a competitive program and our kids are working that way."

Hart delivered on his promise to make Huntley competitive in his first season. His 2012 team went 6-3 in the regular season, 5-1 in the tough Valley Division of the Fox Valley Conference, good for second place. Its only division loss was to eventual Class 6A runner-up Cary-Grove, 41-14.

It took a last-minute field goal for Fenwick to end Huntley's season in a Class 7A first-round playoff game, 10-9.

With a full year to incorporate his systems and implement an off-season training regimen, Hart said his team has taken great strides since last November.

"I don't think the team could grow any more than what we did in the off-season," said Hart, whose career record is 244-74 in 28 seasons at five high schools in Illinois and Indiana. "I think teams can grow as much, but I don't think teams can grow more. I don't think I've ever had a team grow as much as what this team has in one year.

"Now, the negative part of that is that we had a long way to grow. So we're still not strong, but we're a lot stronger than what we were."

One standout is senior Brandon Dranka (6-foot-2, 230 pounds), who will play defensive end and outside linebacker. "He's exciting," Hart said. "He has every tool you could ask for at that position. I've probably sent 20 guys to Division I football and I think he's a Division-I football player. He's had an incredible year in the weight room."

Another key defender is returning starting safety Michael Andrews. The 5-11, 195-pound senior "can make all the plays," according to his coach. The defensive line gets a boost from Marcus Wright (5-8, 210), a former tight end making a position switch.

Wright, Andrews and Dranka "give us all the intangibles: leadership and character. And they can play at a really high level," Hart said. The Red Raiders must replace the entire linebacker corps. Senior Jordan Kabb (6-0, 215) is coming off shoulder surgery and is in that mix, as is sophomore outside linebacker Tim McCloyn (6-1, 185).

Offensively, the new quarterback is senior Blake Jacobs (6-2, 185). He benefits from a full year of making reads in Hart's system, experience graduated quarterback Kam Sallee did not have. Jacobs is backed up by junior Jimmy Ambrose (5-10, 190) and sophomore Anthony Binetti (5-11, 185).

Returning to the backfield are tailback Jake Scalise (5-5, 150) and fullback Mitch Kawell (5-8, 190), both seniors. The elusive Scalise led Huntley last year with 568 yards and 6 rushing touchdowns on 116 carries (4.9 avg.). Used mostly as a blocking back, Kawell managed 80 yards in 37 attempts.

The Red Raiders graduated two of the area's most productive receivers in Bryce Beschorner and Jake Lackovic. Their slack will be picked up by talented juniors Josh Esikiel (5-11, 175) and Connor Boesch (6-5, 180) and senior Mackian Stephens (6-2, 170).

Hart said the offensive line is the unit that "has improved the most but has the least of amount of experience, and that inexperience concerns us." The leader of that group is senior Daren Erath, a 6-3, 295-pound three-year starter. Still, the second-year coach is upbeat about this team's chances.

"We had a great seven-on-seven year," Hart said of the summer passing league. "Obviously, you need to put the pads on them and see if they can do it football-wise, too, but I really think they've grown so much as a team. I think we're all excited to get going."

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