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A former Northern Illinois lineman himself, Streamwood football coach Mark Orszula recognized off-season weight training would be vital if the Sabres hope to improve upon last year's 1-8 record.
Streamwood was pushed around in the trenches far too often -- the offense gained an area-low 819 rushing yards while the defense surrendered 1,849 on the ground -- and the only way that ends is by pushing back with equal force.
Following an enthusiastic turnout for his off-season lifting regime, the second-year coach believes his Sabres are better prepared to compete in 2014 because the players return measurably stronger at every position but one.
"For us to be successful we have to move the ball," Orszula said. "That starts up front. Typically, we've always had pretty good skill at Streamwood. It's getting our linemen up to that caliber of athlete to be comparable to our skill. We've gotten a lot stronger, and we have some young linemen coming in and they're going to have to step up to the challenge."
Two starters return on the offensive line: seniors John Meilahan (5-11, 245) and Josh Pervaiz (5-11, 210). One promising newcomer is Junior Alvarez, a 6-foot-3, 320-pound junior who Orszula calls "a good athlete for a big guy. He can move well."
The backfield has a different look. Leading rusher Tra Brown (393 yards, 2 TD) transferred to Bartlett. Whereas Brown was a hard-nosed power back, replacements Nino Adkins and Tae Reetz are among the team's swiftest players. Reetz is also the team's strongest player overall, not just pound for pound, and Adkins has a knack for finding the hole and cutting through it, Orszula said.
They will take handoffs from quarterback Max Draper, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior. Draper lost a quarterback battle in the preseason a year ago to Mason Polich, who finished seventh in area passing with 1,322 yards to go with 11 touchdowns. Draper completed 13 of 27 attempts for 75 yards and a touchdown.
With the starting job now Draper's, college scouts will be watching. A number of schools have expressed interest, including Dayton, where he attended a camp.
The new signal caller is supported by a pair of proven receivers. Senior Noah Polich (5-11, 185) was named all-Upstate Eight River last season with 39 receptions for 547 yards and 5 touchdowns. Cole Segar is a 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior who made 24 catches for 338 yards and 5 scores.
Reetz (safety) and Adkins (corner) are important two-way players who must stay healthy. They are rejoined in the secondary by returning senior cornerback Jelyn Hill (5-10, 170), also a basketball player. Adkins and Hill each had interceptions last year.
Junior Jake Painter (5-10, 210) returns at middle linebacker. He is flanked on the outside by senior Melvin Manalansan, a 5-9, 185-pound senior who returns after tearing an ACL in the second week of the 2013 season. Junior Tim Crom (6-1, 190) mans the outside linebacker spot.
The only returning starter along the defensive line is senior Jonah Exline (6-4, 200), who also plays volleyball. Next to him is tough-too-move senior run stopper Brandon Holloway (6-5, 300).
Orszula said the coaching staff has simplified schemes on defense and tailored the offense to better fit the skill-position players Streamwood produces. He's hoping the adjustments pay off.
"We need to take a step forward," Orszula said. "With the group we have, with the players investing in the off-season, with their skill level and with the coaches being together for another year, we need to make an improvement from last year. We're optimistic. Hopefully, good things will happen for us and we'll put ourselves in positions to be successful."