You simply don't replace a football player like Justin Jackson.
Glenbard North won't even try.
"He was a special player, and everyone here knows how much he meant to the program," said Panthers coach Ryan Wilkens. "Right now we're focused on the present. We're looking at what we need to do going forward."
The graduated record-breaking running back, now at Northwestern, piled up 6,500 rushing yards, including nearly 3,200 last season while earning Gatorade Player of the Year and Daily Herald All-Area Team Captain honors.
It'd be foolish to expect anything close to that kind of production this season, but it'd also be foolish to expect the Panthers to change their offensive philosophy while chasing a third straight DuPage Valley Conference title. Sophomore Vittorio Tricase rushed for 475 yards and 5 touchdowns as Jackson's backup last season, and junior Devion Hodges is poised to add to the ground game.
With quarterback Brett Gasiorowski, fullback Dillon Warnecke and receivers John Bosco and Luke Siperly all returning, the least of Glenbard North's concerns will be at the skill positions on offense. Once again the Panthers will lean on play-action passing to keep run-focused defenses honest.
The offensive line lost the bulk of its strength, including DVC lineman of the year Chris Edwards. Returners Axel Vargas and Dominic Heredia lead a new line that quickly needs to develop cohesion if the Panthers hope to maintain their ground tradition.
"We like our depth at offensive line but we need to get our top guys solidified," Wilkens said.
The Panthers suffered numerous graduation losses on the defensive line and in the secondary, but they'll be tough and experienced at linebacker with Luke Greenberg, Brad Metoyer, Jimique Davis and Phil Partipilo. Expect to see two-way play from offensive contributors like Warnecke.
Defensive back Steve Adamatis and linemen Matt Michalak and Matt Kos also return to a team fully capable of defending the DVC title.
"We've got a lot of work to do, but it's a talented group," Wilkens said.
Coach: Ryan Wilkens (10th year, 75-30).
2013 record: 9-2, 7-0, first in DuPage Valley Conference.
Top players: Luke Greenberg (LB, 6-1, 210, sr.); Matt Michalak (DL, 6-1, 220, sr.); Brett Gasiorowski (QB, 6-4, 210, sr.); Vittorio Tricase (RB, 5-6, 165, so.); Devion Hodges (RB, 5-8, 165, jr.); Dillon Warnecke (RB, 5-10, 215, sr.); Matt Kos (DL, 6-1, 235, sr.); Brad Metoyer (LB, 5-11, 170, sr.); Steve Adamatis (DB, 5-10, 175, jr.).
Sat, 8/30 Glenbard North at Centerville (Ohio) 6 p.m.
Fri, 9/5 Batavia at Glenbard North 7:30 p.m.
Sat, 9/13 Glenbard North at Brooks noon
Fri, 9/19 Glenbard North at Naperville North 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/26 Glenbard North at Naperville Central 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/3 Wheaton North at Glenbard North 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/10 Lake Park at Glenbard North 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/17 Glenbard North at WW South 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 1024 Naperville North at Glenbard North 7:30 p.m.