When last seen in a Cary-Grove football uniform on a snowy November Saturday, fullback/linebacker Tyler Pennington was being interviewed next to an idling team bus about to depart Glen Ellyn after a 21-6 semifinal loss to eventual Class 7A champion Glenbard West.
The school's all-time leading rusher answered several questions about the game in a thoughtful, concise manner, more like a professional than an 11th-grader.
Finally, he was asked about the prospects for the 2016 Trojans, considering approximately 80 percent of the lineup was slated to return.
"I like what we've got coming back," Pennington said without thinking twice.
Shortly thereafter, he and the bus were gone, back to wherever Cary-Grove has been manufacturing smart, aggressive, fast football players for over a decade.
And what's not to like about what the Trojans have coming back?
Pennington heads a list four returning all-conference players that includes linebacker Kevin Pedersen, safety David Daigle and running back Ryan Magel, who has 4.4 speed.
Cary-Grove has other all-conference-caliber players returning who didn't get that award because there were only so many spots available: offensive lineman Colton Ruhland, defensive backs Zach Underwood and Max Skol and slot back Kyle Pressley among them.
Last season, Pennington rushed for 1,433 yards and 24 touchdowns and fumbled only twice in 279 totes. Magel finished with 792 yards and 9 touchdowns in 77 attempts and he caught 3 touchdown passes. Pressley and Skol combined to rush for 7 scores.
Defensively, Skol led the Trojans in tackles (49). Underwood led the team in forced fumbles (3) and was second in tackles (41.5). Daigle was third in tackles (34.5) and led with 3 interceptions.
What does it mean for a team that reached the final four last year with a core of mostly juniors?
"Anytime you have a lot of seniors, and we have 25, you have a lot of guys who are really hungry to win," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said. "A lot of them are either starters or in competition to be a starter at their respective position. Whenever you have that good competition going on with the team, it gives you a pretty good chance to be competitive on Friday night."
There are always wrinkles to be ironed out. The defensive line has some big shoes to fill in the wake of graduation losses.
Offensively, Seaburg said he had yet to select a starting quarterback eight days ahead of the season opener. That competition has continued through camp between senior Bobby Collins (6-0, 170) and sophomore Quinn Priester (6-3, 175).
Priester quarterbacked Cary-Grove's sophomore team as a freshman. Last season Collins started in playoff victories over Belleville West and Benet Academy due to an illness to then-starting quarterback JP Sullivan. Overall, Collins completed 8 of 13 passes for 272 yards and 3 touchdowns with 1 interception and carried 20 times for 93 yards and 2 scores.
Do the Trojans have the right mix of players to compete for the program's second state title and first since 2009?
"We have a lot of guys with high expectations who really want to take what they did last year and take it to the next level," Seaburg said.