Downers Grove South hasn't been itself lately, but this season's football team hopes to change that.
Missing the last few years? The dominance of a program that won 22 conference titles in 30 years while making three state title-game appearances including a Class 8A championship in 2001.
Coach Mark Molinari isn't ready to say the Mustangs will reach similar heights in 2016, but the focus on returning to that level is keen.
"We need to get back to Downers Grove South football," Molinari said. "I hope it's not false optimism, but we're excited about this group."
Key senior returners lead the way, but the optimism rises from a junior class that went 9-0 at the sophomore level. Six-foot-two, 180-pound quarterback Matt Greenwald and running back-receiver Blake Freko head a group that was kept together last season except for defensive lineman Sergio Villalobos, a standout wrestler promoted to varsity.
Juniors are also well-represented in the linebacker corps on defense, but Molinari is confident they can hit the ground running. This will be the second year for the Mustangs in the spread offense, easing the transition for the newcomers who ran it as sophomores.
"We've got some answers now," Molinari said. "It's still not perfect, but you can see it's clicking a little bit better."
The passing game should improve on both sides of the ball. Six-five tight end Charley LaCivita and receivers Joe Tonoff, Brandon Biedermann and Damani White will be strong targets for Greenwald. Defensive backs Hayden Cotter, Matt Lucas and Myron Douglas bring needed size to the secondary.
Offensive and defensive improvement is clear. It's merely a matter of how much.
"We need to get back to winning in the conference," Molinari said. "With the talent we have, this is the year we should start doing it."
One to watch: Week 3
The Rebel Canon remains at Hinsdale South. This is a chance to get it back.
Coach: Mark Molinari (fourth year, 13-14).
2015 record: 3-6, 3-3, tied for third in West Suburban Gold.
Top players: Charley LaCivita (TE, 6-4, 230, sr.), Matt Greenwald (QB, 6-1, 190, jr.), Blake Freko (RB-WR, 5-6, 135, jr.), Sergio Villalobos (DL, 5-11, 200, jr.), Alan Janes, (DL, 6-2, 210, sr.), Deante Washington (DL, 6-2, 195, sr.), Joe Tonoff (WR, 6-1, 178, sr.), Brandon Biedermann (WR, 5-6, 160, sr.), Hayden Cotter (DB, 6-0, 175, sr.), Myron Douglas (DB, 5-10, 155, sr.), Damani White (WR, 6-2, 185, sr.), Sam Adank (RB, 5-11, 175, sr.), Mark Portell (OL, 5-9, 210, sr.), Nick Paskvan (OL, 6-1, 260, sr.).
-- Kevin Schmit
Downers Grove South
Fri, 8/26, Downers Grove South at Homewood-Flossmoor, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/2, Hinsdale Central at Downers Grove South, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/9, Downers Grove South at Hinsdale South, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/16, Addison Trail at Downers Grove South, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/23, Downers Grove South at Morton, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/30, Leyden at Downers Grove South, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/7, Downers Grove South at Downers Grove North, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/14, Willowbrook at Downers Grove South, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/21, Downers Grove South at Proviso East, 7:30 p.m.