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The Bartlett football program isn't used to missing the playoffs like it did in 2013 for only the only the second time in 14 years.
Of course, the coaching staff isn't used to starting seven sophomores like they did a year ago either.
Of those seven sophomores, five started on defense. Such inexperience was partly to blame for un-Bartlett-like averages of 29.4 points and 330 yards allowed per game, a minus-4 turnover margin and an eventual 4-5 finish.
"That really wasn't Bartlett football," Meaney said. "Last year the defense just didn't get it done. Hopefully, we'll get some turnovers this year and have a better showing. We were an awfully young team last year, but the kids really worked hard in the off-season to get faster and bigger and they developed. We're really happy with the progress."
The defense returns talented tackles around whom the Hawks can build. Juniors Kyle Sanft (6-foot-4, 285 pounds) and Brian Yurik (5-10, 240) were each named all-Upstate Eight Valley last fall. Junior Brandon Drajin (6-2, 180) also gained experience as a starting end.
Both inside linebackers return: senior Dan Danek (6-2, 220) and junior Mike Bucaro (6-1, 185). Returning junior cornerback Dan Andreuccetti makes the switch to outside linebacker.
The secondary is among the fastest in Bartlett history, featuring seniors Bryce Petty and Isaiah Cottman and junior Nolan Bernat (2 int.).
Petty, who carries a 4.0 grade-point average, recently committed to play football at Fordham. Last spring he and Bernat helped the school's 400- and 800-meter relay teams qualify for the state track meet.
"We have a little more speed than we're accustomed to," Meaney said. "The defense should be a lot better than it has been. It's nice having six, seven, eight kids back that either started last year or played a lot."
Petty, Cottman and Bernat are also key figures on offense. Petty aims for a more productive season than a year ago, when injury limited him to 310 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. Cottman made 16 catches last season (8.2 avg.). Another target is tight end Jason Hasenberg, a 6-foot-5 junior in his second varsity season. Danek will also play offense when the Hawks line up in double tight end formations.
Bernat becomes the featured back after splitting carries last season, when he scored 7 touchdowns. He is joined in the backfield by junior Travious Brown, a transfer from Streamwood. As a sophomore with the Sabres last fall, Brown rushed for 393 yards and 2 scores on 84 carries (4.7 avg.).
Veteran assistant Mark Williams will coach an offensive line that returns both tackles in Sanft -- who this summer attended camps at top-20 programs Ohio State and Mississippi -- and senior Matt Wachter (6-4, 285). Senior center Paul Antolik (6-2, 255) started multiple games at the end of last season. They will be joined by junior Ricky Foster (6-0, 235). He played defensive line as a sophomore.
The offense, installed last season by coordinator Eric Ilich, is triggered by third-year quarterback Jordan Flint (94 of 180, 1,088 yards, 6 TD). The senior attended multiple college camps over the summer.
Meaney said the offense will still think run first, but the unit should be balanced, thanks to the combination of a senior quarterback, some burgeoning young running backs, battle-tested linemen and fast, tall, experienced receivers.
"It'll be interesting to see because we haven't thrown very much the last couple of years," Meaney said. "This is (Flint's) time; it's his time to shine. It's hard not to run the ball because that's what we're known for, but we can definitely mix it up."