Expect the best Mid-Suburban West football teams to lay it on the line this fall.
The offensive lines will be the key to success for most teams in the MSL West this season. Each of the top teams have multiple starters back on their lines, while Fremd, Barrington and Schaumburg have size to go with that experience.
"It may be a case of ground and pound," said Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling, who returns Michale Bruno to an offensive line that averages 227 pounds.
The Saxons, who are the defending West champs, lost elusive quarterback Stacey Smith (Western Illinois) to graduation. But Schaumburg will look to count on the running of Justice Macneal-Young, who gained nearly 1,000 yards last season.
Barrington also lost its quarterback, and the Broncos are planning a running back-by-committee approach. The advantage is that Dylan Abel and Nate King return with plenty of experience and will get help from Dumaso Mkwanananzi and J.T. Henderson.
Barrington also has the benefit of running behind an enormous offensive line that averages 252 pounds and returns Alex Serrano and Brett Morrison. But the real strength of the team may come from a defense that returns eight starters, including its entire linebacking corps that features Jake Coon and Mark Bornhofen.
"We expect that our defense will be one of our keys this season," Barrington coach Joe Sanchez said.
Fremd also looks to challenge for the division title and will do it without four-year starter Sam Beutler at quarterback. Nick Bossong will take over the duties there and will most likely be handing off to a rapidly improving Darius Burchette.
But the Vikings still resemble the program's top teams of the past with an offensive line that's huge, averaging 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds and loaded with experience. Jake Plantz is back alongside a slimmer and more mobile Dominic Lombard, who has his weight down to 295 pounds.
Fremd coach Lou Sponsel, who will take over the play-calling this year, says that his team is more athletic than in seasons past.
"Our kids bought into our system and worked hard all summer," Sponsel said.
On the other side of town, Palatine looks to bounce back after missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years. The Pirates are one of the few area teams that returns its entire backfield. Nick Orlando is back at quarterback and will look to throw to Joey Roy and Javonne Stricker. Chris Cornelius, who averaged 8.4 yards per carry last year, will be looking for running room behind an offensive line that returns four starters, including Carsten Anderson.
"We have plenty experience on offense," Palatine coach Rick Splitt said. "And we are very quick defensively."
Hoffman Estates and coach Mike Donatucci have more starters back than any team in the MSL. Nine on offense and nine of defense have Donatucci, who is in his second year at the helm for the Hawks, thinking his team is ready to make the big jump.
"We like having guys who know what they are doing on the field for us," Donatucci said. "They know how to get the job done."
Jeff Mayes is back at quarterback for the Hawks and will operate in front of an offensive line that returns three starters who started every game last year. That should help running back Connor McCreary find some holes.
Conant will be junior-dominated this season -- except on the offensive line, where the Cougars expect to start four seniors including Mike Meier and Joe Novak, who both started last season.
Coach Bill Modelski wil have to find a new signal caller after his son Danny graduated last year. Kyle Bradley will man the position and looks very poised despite being just a junior.
"He could be a very good one," Bill Modelski said. "We will be young, but we had six of our juniors this year start last year as sophomores."
Last year's standings
MSL West Conf. All
Schaumburg 4-1 10-2
Barrington 4-1 10-2
Conant 3-2 7-4
Fremd 3-2 6-4
Palatine 1-4 4-5
Hoffman Estates 0-5 2-7
Predicted finish this year: Barrington, Fremd, Schaumburg, Palatine, Hoffman Estates, Conant.