Football is thriving at Palatine.
While many teams are suffering from declining participation, Palatine has 68 players on its varsity team this season, the highest number in recent memory.
And with those numbers, Palatine is hoping to get back on track this year. The Pirates finished 4-5 a year ago and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Second-year coach Rick Splitt believes the Pirates are ready this year to make that leap.
"It came down to a couple of plays," Splitt said. "Last year we did a lot of things well. And with a lot of kids returning, they are hungry to change things."
The Pirates have one of their biggest playmakers back in quarterback Nick Orlando. A senior, Orlando, who is 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, threw for 976 yards and rushed for 257 yards.
"We have been very pleased with the way Nick does things for us," Splitt said. "He does what we need him to do and is able to adjust as the game goes on."
Splitt is also excited about the play of Chris Cornelius at running back. Cornelius came on late in season last year and finished with 546 yards while picking up 8.4 yards per carry, the second-best average in the area last year.
"He has become a very powerful runner," Splitt said. "He is versatile, too, because he can play slot for us."
Cornelius will have a veteran offensive line to run behind. Carsten Andersen (6-3, 250), Kevin Clark (5-7, 205), Mark Scherer (5-10, 235) and Tommy Sobotka (6-3, 225) all started for the Pirates last year. They will be joined by Quinn Gerdes (6-0, 210) or Matt Kerlin (6-3, 250).
"Having most of our guys back on the offensive line is great for us," Splitt said. "That continuity should pay dividends."
Orlando will have a pair of speedy and solid wide receivers in juniors Joey Roy, who started last year as a sophomore and Javone Stricker. Dan Garcia and Dionte Neustadter will also see significant playing time.
Defensively, all plays will go through middle linebacker Vince Serio, who is a three-year varsity player. Dillon McHugh, the last in a long line of McHughs at Palatine, will also start at linebacker while Mike Williams and Jordan Irwin will also be in the mix.
The Pirates will also be strong on the defensive front. Senior Waylan Washington returns and is joined by Cole Nelson and Jake Faldutt while Cortell Rogers and Matt Senner are also in the hunt for playing time.
Garcia, his brother Jake, Robert Fekete, Josh Mackie and Mikalos Jackson will make up the defensive backfield.
"It is good to have some key guys back on defense," Splitt said. Our kids are hard-nosed football players and I am excited to see them perform this year."