Offensive philosophy never changes for Glenbard West's football team.
Personnel changes, however, are constant.
Heading into this season the Hilltoppers (7-1) knew they'd be leaning on the ground game with returning 1,000-yard rusher Scott Andrews and talented backfield mate Jermon Kindle Joyner. With Devante Toney and other options at fullback, there was plenty of reason to expect big things running the ball.
But what about the offensive line? Although the Hilltoppers returned North Carolina State-bound right tackle Eric Shute, they also had to break in four new starters.
Because so much inexperience rested up front, Glenbard West's traditional strength became a bit of a question mark in August.
"We knew it'd be a work in progress," said Hilltoppers coach Chad Hetlet, "but they're starting to play real sound."
Saturday's 55-0 win over Addison Trail showed a glimpse of the offensive line's progress. Physically dominating the line of scrimmage, the Hilltoppers rushed for 350 yards led by Andrews' 170.
With so many backs contributing, much of the credit for success belongs to the offensive line of Shute, Joe Leland, Jack Kane, Will Demos, Ted Clauss and tight end Connor Schrauth. The line's performance this season is even more impressive considering Shute missed two games with a rib injury.
"I'm really pleased with the way they've come together," Hetlet said. "The key up front is execution, and they're doing it."
The traveling Wildcats:
It's been an interesting season for second-year West Chicago coach Bill Bicker and the Wildcats in their first year of Upstate Eight Conference play after 38 years in the DuPage Valley.
"It was a fun season, playing a lot of new teams, going to new places," said Bicker, whose team concludes its slate Friday at East Aurora. "Getting to see football from a little different sense that obviously we haven't gotten in awhile, that was fun."
Yet transitory. The Wildcats swapped league affiliations with Lake Park in the UEC Valley Division. Next year, West Aurora and Glenbard East leave the DVC to join the Valley and West Chicago will go to the River Division.
"It's almost like you know not to get attached," Bicker said. "You play the schedule this year, but it's next year when we can really start setting in. And that'll be good."
Aside from missing DVC coaches and tradition, Bicker noticed slight changes in offensive and defensive philosophy between the two leagues, particularly on pass defense. He also gravitated to checking DVC box scores first.
Next year truly will be the start of something new for West Chicago.
"It was weird in the sense that it wasn't like going to your forever home," Bicker said about this season. "It was nice, I'd almost equate it to going on a brief vacation. I think we're looking forward to next year, permanency, and go from there."
Johnny always wins:
Twice over the past two weeks the late Johnny Weiger has been remembered and honored at Montini games, home and away. The young man, a football player, was a student in Montini's Class of 2015 but passed away Nov. 4, 2012. As a freshman he'd been diagnosed with leukemia; after treatments he contracted a blood disorder that can be caused by a bone-marrow transplant.
Johnny wore No. 76 on the Broncos' freshman team, and prior to kickoff of the Broncos' home game Oct. 11 against Marian Central his parents presented senior offensive lineman A.J. Melarkey with the "Spirit of '76" award in his honor.
Montini coach Chris Andriano said several Broncos offensive linemen could have been chosen for the award. Malarkey, a linebacker as a junior, stood out due to "physical and mental toughness" earning playing time at a new position.
"Melarkey has gone above and beyond the call of duty," Andriano said. "The kid's been such a hard worker. He's one of those behind-the-scenes guys, a team-first guy. He loves the game."
Saturday Montini visited Aurora Christian. Eagles coaches and some injured players on the sidelines wore orange T-shirts with Weiger's No. 76 on it. Eagles coach Don Beebe said last season when the teams played in Lombard the school contributed several thousand dollars to the Johnny Weiger Memorial Scholarship Fund.
Plugging the hole:
Naperville Central (5-3) suffered a tough loss in practice last Tuesday when senior left tackle Alex Peterson went down with a torn ACL.
Combined with the loss earlier this season of defensive lineman Cole Wooldridge, the Redhawks have endured major shuffling on both sides of the ball.
"It's tough when you lose your best defensive lineman and your best offensive lineman," said Naperville Central coach Mike Stine. "It affects you in a lot of different ways."
Specifically, Stine saw the team morale suffer with season-ending injuries to two senior leaders.
"Those are the heart and soul guys of the team," Stine said. "It's been difficult to put everything together."
Despite only a couple days of practice as the starting left tackle, Dom Ventrella stepped in and filled Peterson's role on the offensive line in last week's loss to Wheaton North. Stine was especially impressed because Ventrella didn't play football as a junior.
"I was proud of the way he played," Stine said.
Fenton entered the season planning to use a running back-by-committee approach to its offense.
When senior Alex Cowan rushed for 129 yards and 4 touchdowns in Fenton's 38-13 Week 2 win over Walther Christian Academy, that all changed. The Bison (5-3) switched to a power running game and Cowan responded with three 100-yard rushing efforts heading into Friday's Metro Suburban Conference showdown against Riverside-Brookfield.
"We had a bunch of options at running back, but then he had that big game against Walther," said Fenton coach Mark Kos. "Cowan's a wrestler, he's a tough kid. He'll do what it takes."
Kos added another wrinkle to the offense in Fenton's Week 7 loss to Glenbard South by putting Cowan in at quarterback in a Wildcat formation. Cowan rushed for only 41 yards but he completed 6 of 10 passes for 76 yards.
In last week's 48-13 win over Elmwood Park, yet another wrinkle came to the offense when quarterback Willie Wassmann lined up in the Wildcat. Wassmann didn't run the ball much but he threw for 118 yards and 3 touchdowns. That allowed Cowan to line up at other spots and create matchup problems for the defense.
"We have a lot of options on offense," Kos said. "We're just trying to get everyone involved."
Cary-Grove and Wheaton College graduate Brad Thornton returned home after six years as defensive coordinator at Evangelical Christian School in Memphis. He was to take the same position at Wheaton Academy, then was named interim head coach.
Thornton said despite the logistics of running a program, the season has been "a blast."
"The first thing I should mention is how much fun it's been working with the group of guys I've had, especially since there's been so much flux in the coaching staff," Thornton said. "They were, first of all, excited and hungry about the new coaches coming in the spring. They really soaked up all of the coaching on the field, X's and O's-wise. It's a great group of guys, they're fun to be around and when they're challenged they take the challenges seriously."
Another comes Friday against 6-2 Marian Central at Wheaton College, with a playoff berth on the line for the 4-4 Warriors. Thornton said physical differences may impact losses to schools like Montini, but staff instruction and player preparation is no factor. That's continued this week.
"We want them to leave the field with no regrets, regardless of outcome," Thornton said. "If they do that they will have something to be proud of and a strong finish to their season."
In an email Wheaton Academy athletic director Andrew Tink expressed happiness with the staff and players but reiterated this remains an interim position with any changes to be discussed after the season. Thornton plans on being part of it.
"Regardless of whether I'm head coach or not I will be involved with the program, and a lot of coaches on the staff are invested in building this program," he said. "We don't count on there being as much coaching turnover as there has been, and ultimately that will be good for the guys in the program."
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- Carol Stream
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- Glenbard West High School
- Montini Catholic High School
- Naperville Central High School
- West Chicago Community High School
- Wheaton Academy
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