Jacobs coach Bill Mitz has been around the block enough times to know one player does not a team make.
That's why the 32nd-year coach is confident his Golden Eagles not only can withstand the graduation of last year's consensus area player of the year -- quarterback Bret Mooney, now at Colgate -- they can again thrive.
"Every year great teams have a player like that who leaves, whether it's someone who made plays on offense or defense. Last year Bret was the guy," Mitz said. "It's somebody else's turn to take that role. Someone has to step up and do that. If that happens, we'll be smiling. If it doesn't, we won't be smiling.
"You hope your program is getting strong enough that you just reload. It's the next guy's chance to shine, which is good."
The defending champions of the Fox Valley Conference's Valley Division return 11 starters, five of whom will are competing in their third varsity season.
The player to watch is senior Josh Walker, a dynamic playmaker with speed. The senior runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, and last spring he qualified for the state track meet by running the 100-yard dash in 10.89.
Schools like Illinois State, Drake, Colgate and Western Michigan have expressed interested in Walker based on game films, but those coaching staffs want to see him play the first two games of this season against Barrington and St. Charles East before making a commitment to a 5-foot-5 running back despite his speed and durability.
"I'm not the biggest guy, so they're like 'Is he really that good?' They want to see me play first," said Walker, who last season carried 156 times for 1,050 yards (6.7-yard avg) and 14 touchdowns.
"He's one of the best players I've ever had, but a lot of these universities are worried that he's 5-5," Mitz said. "The other day I told one assistant coach who is a recruiting coordinator: 'Tell your head coach to remember that dynamite's a small stick.'"
Quarterback duties will be handled either by junior Brenden Heiss or sophomore Chris Katrenick, a transfer from Marian Central. Heiss is a strong-armed pitcher who helped the school's baseball program win a regional title last spring, He is also an aggressive, returning linebacker. If Katrenick can handle the quarterback duties, Heiss is free to concentrate on defense.
The offensive line features third-year varsity guard Carson Shoemaker (6-foot-2, 225) and returning starters Jonny Cieniewicz (6-1, 250) at center and Jeff Sidor (5-11, 215) at guard. Others expected to fill line vacancies include seniors Colin Ceisel (6-3, 250) and Tony Braglia (6-3, 220) and freshman Jimmy Wormsley (6-3, 265).
The receiving corps remains dangerous despite the graduation of leading receiver Hunter Williams (St. Cloud State). The offense returns 6-foot-1, 175-pound senior wideout Camden McLain (19 rec., 405 yards, 5 TD) and 5-10 senior Nick Gierlak (6 rec., 66 yards, TD). Elusive juniors Nathan Meland and Kyle Copeland lend depth to the unit.
The defense boasts a pair of veteran linemen in Shoemaker and Jamal Wilson (6-2, 250), another third-year varsity starter from whom Mitz expects "big things."
Heiss is again flanked at linebacker by twins Mat (5-10, 193) and Sean (5-9, 191) Barnes. Another three-year starter, Cody Ferencz, lurks at safety. Senior cornerback Josh Yonker.
"I think we stand up with everyone," Shoemaker said of the revamped Golden Eagles. "We have a lot of guys coming back. We have more than people think."
Jacobs opens the season at Barrington before returning to Algonquin for 7 straight home games, which can only further spark interest in a program already setting records for participation.
"I love this team. It's another fun group," said Mitz, who in four seasons at Jacobs has gone 25-15 and made the playoffs each year. "Our numbers are up. We've got about 170 kids in the program, which is a lot different from when we first came here. I'm excited. I know the kids are excited."