Opportunities abound for the Burlington Central football team.
Third-year coach Rich Crabel has plenty of options at his disposal, particularly on offense where he said between 6-10 running backs and receivers, six different tight ends and four different fullbacks could play on any given night.
That's just on offense. Crabel added six to eight defensive linemen and between eight and 10 cornerbacks could see action. Central is coming off a 2012 season where it went 5-4 and 4-2 in Big Northern Conference East Division play. The Rockets were playoff-eligible, but missed on points.
"We have a lot of skill kids that we're rotating in and out, a lot of different kids that are catching balls for us," he said. "We really try to do that on the offensive side. That's how you get kids out and that's how you keep kids out. We have a lot of different personnel packages, trying to get kids into that rotation."
Casey Matthews is back at quarterback. He took over the job late in the season when Ryan Ritchie was injured a second time. He'll also start at safety (3 interceptions last year).
Reilly Marino (6-0, 195) gained 651 yards on the ground as a junior and scored 4 touchdowns, while junior Trevor Davison gained 381 yards and rushed for 5 touchdowns. He also caught 7 passes for 104 yards. Senior Ian Napiorkowski and senior tight end Victorius Almasi are key targets for Matthews. Central returns no starters on its offensive line.
"We don't have any DI-looking kids anywhere on the field, but we have some kids who've worked pretty hard and are doing the things we want to do in our system," said Crabel of his offense. "We should be very balanced throwing and running the ball, but that's going to be determined by how we develop up front."
Junior Cole Roach (5-10, 200, MLB), Marino (OLB) and junior Craig Kien (6-0, 180) all are back at linebacking spots. Kyle Coffland and Matthews will start in the secondary. Central also is thin on varsity experience on the defensive line.
North Boone is the defending East Division champion. The Vikings won the title by a game with a 5-1 mark.
Richmond-Burton tied with Central and Harvard for second place at 4-2. The Rockets, under the direction of eighth-year coach Pat Elder, advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
The Rockets return a host of players, including the likes of seniors Danny Rygiel (QB-DB), Ethan Peterson (G-DT), Bryce Wagner (T-DT), Chris Gort (T-DT), Nick Bianchini (TE-DE), Josh Williams (TE-DE), Nick Hogan (TE-LB), Cory Prejna (C-DT), Nathan Hansel (RB-LB), Eric Paparigian (G-DT), Tyler Meredith (C-NG), Luke Stocker (G-DT), Troy Zaremba (T-DT), Vince Battaglia (FB-DE), Kory Klicker (RB-DB), Kyle Kirby (RB-DB), Jake Hoilan (RB-DB), Sergio Hernandez (K-TE-DE) and junior Brand Boelkow (RB-LB).
"We return some linemen, which hopefully will be our strength," said Elder. "Our backs will be young and their development will be the key to how we progress. We should improve throughout the season and will hope to contend for the conference title."
Elder feels defending champion North Boone and Harvard are preseason favorites and notes all teams in the loop have improved.
"Once again, our league will be very tough from top to bottom," said Elder. "Any team that comes out of it should have an opportunity to do well in the postseason."
Harvard, led by longtime coach Tim Haak, went 5-4 last year and won four of its last five games.
Key players for the Hittin' Hornets include seniors Tate Miller (TE-LB), Dakota Trebes (G-DE), Justin Nolen (WR-DB), Adam Fremiund (T, DT), Peyton Schnieder (QB), Matt Wheeler (LB) and Fernando Carrera (CB).
"We have some experience back," said Haak, who noted team depth is one concern this season.
Genoa-Kingston went 3-6 last year, with all of its wins coming against East Division opponents.
Rockford Christian looks to be improved coming off a 1-8 season last year (1-5 BNC East). Seniors Kalab Polky (WR-DB), Calvin Randall (DB), juniors Joey McMahon (WR), Michael Prisby (RB-LB) and Brandon Muhleback (OL-DL), along with sophomore Nolan Gazouski (QB) return, as does offensive lineman Nick Kuchenruther.
Key newcomers for Rockford Christian are seniors Nick Misci (OL-DL) and Brylin Washington (LB).
Marengo is coming off a 1-8 season in 2012. The Indians, who went 0-6 in East Division play, return seniors Dustin Rondorf (6-2, 220, TE-DE), Matthew Pandocchi (5-11, 205, RB-LB), Noah Klick (5-10, 170, WR-DB), Tommy Graczyk (6-1, 215, OL-DL) and Coy Szaflarski (5-10, 210, OL-DL), along with junior Justin Valesquaz (5-11, 180, WR-FS).
Key newcomers for the Indians include juniors Ethan Walsweer (5-10, 170, QB-DB) and Dakota Kissack (5-11, 175, RB-DB).
"The conference once again is going to be extremely competitive this year," said Marengo coach Matt Lynch.
Since the Big Northern Conference went to East and West divisions in 2006, Richmond has won the most East titles with three (15-0 from 2009 to 2011). North Boone (2012), Harvard (2007) and Central (2006) each have one. Departed Hampshire (now in the Fox Valley Conference) won the 2008 title. The East Division champions between 2006 and 2011 did not lose a division game. North Boone lost one game last year. This is the second year of the 6-game division schedule in the BNC.