When Glenbard West claimed the Class 7A championship in November, the Hilltoppers confirmed what many prep football fans already knew: The West Suburban Conference rates among the state's best leagues.
While the Hilltoppers again stand as favorites to win the WSC Silver Division, the gap between them and the other contenders is razor thin. In fact don't be surprised to hear multiple Silver teams mentioned in state-title conversations.
"The talent is just incredible in the conference," said Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet. "Look at how well everyone did in the playoffs last year."
Downers Grove North is a prime example. The Trojans eked into the playoffs at 5-4, then made a run to the 7A quarterfinals.
Fifteen starters return for Downers North, including junior quarterback David Edwards, Toledo-bound receiver Richard Olekanma and linebacker Vontae Diggs, who just reopened his recruiting by rescinding his commitment to Toledo.
"Tough from top to bottom," Downers North coach John Wander said of the Silver. "You need to survive just to get to the playoffs."
Even with Downers North's experience, Glenbard West is the Silver team to beat with what Hetlet says might be his best backfield. Running back Scott Andrews leads the way after rushing for 1,300 yards last season. Quarterback Drew Vogg, last year's backup, is another key cog to the team's success.
Don't count out Hinsdale Central, which returns Michigan-bound receiver Ian Bunting and Michigan State-bound lineman Brian Allen. Lyons Twp., meanwhile, was a Class 8A quarterfinalist last season.
How tough was the Silver? Six of the seven teams qualified for the playoffs, and the seventh team, York, will be improved this year.
"You look at the consistency out there and it's incredible," said Dukes coach Steve Nye. "It'll be a battle every week."
The WSC Gold Division didn't have the same playoff success last season, but it'll be just as competitive. As defending champion Leyden rebuilds for another title run, everyone else seeks to replace the Eagles atop the standings.
Willowbrook's skill players may be the best in the league with quarterback Brian Johnson, who threw for nearly 2,200 yards, 1,000-yard rusher Jeremy Barnes and receiver Devin Childress all returning.
Addison Trail starts 13 juniors, but the Blazers are loaded with experience. Linebackers Eric Gilliam, Alton Marshall, Ryan Petrbok and Chris Lacni solidify the defense.
Hinsdale South, energized by last year's playoff berth, and Downers Grove South, trying to erase the sting of a rare playoff absence, also plan to vie for the title. The Mustangs welcome a new coach in Mark Molinari, the program's longtime defensive coordinator who replaces retired hall of fame coach John Belskis.
"The Gold is starting to play real well on a consistent basis," Molinari said. "Hopefully, we can get back to the top."
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