Zaire Barnes CarmelBarnes showed his versatility this season, and did it at the drop of a hat. Barnes was the Corsairs defensive leader at the beginning of the season as a defensive back. But when star running back Rondel Jamison went down with an injury, Barnes shifted gears as the coaches asked him to become the team's primary ball carrier. Barnes rolled up 653 yards on 89 carries for an average of 7.3 yards. He also ran in 7 touchdowns. On defense, Barnes had 82 total tackles. "Zaire carried the offense for the second half of the season," Carmel coach Andy Bitto said. Barnes also returned kicks and punts and already has scholarship offers from Central Michigan and Toledo.
Brendan Bazar LibertyvilleLibertyville coach Mike Jones said that Bazar was the featured running back of the team. Actually, sometimes, Bazar was almost the entire offense. Against Stevenson, for instance, his number was called on 41 of the Wildcats' 55 plays on offense. "He combines speed and power and has worked extremely hard to put himself in a position to be a difference-maker for the Wildcats," Jones said. Bazar, a junior, rolled up 882 yards and 8 touchdowns on 149 carries. He also caught 17 passes for 385 yards and 4 touchdowns. And he had a kickoff return for a touchdown.
George Bessette AntiochAntioch coach Brian Glashagel pegged Bessette a long time ago. He brought up Bessette, a linebacker, as a freshman to play in the playoffs. Bessette, now a senior, stuck. "He has been a force on our defense since," Glashagel said. "George was the physical and emotional force on our defense this season and maybe the single biggest defensive force in the Northern Lake County Conference." A Class 6A all-state selection, Bessette rolled up 75 tackles this season, including 10 for a loss. He also forced a fumble.
Jacob Bicknase WaucondaWauconda coach Dave Mills says that Bicknase was the calm in the backfield for the Bulldogs. Of course, opposing teams probably had a completely different take on Bicknase, who wreaked all kinds of havoc on defenses. Bicknase, a senior, rolled up 1,574 yards and 15 touchdowns on 237 carries this season. He averaged 157 yards per game. "He always played with a love for the game, his teammates and the competition," Mills said of Bicknase, the No. 2 all-time leading rusher in school history with 2,170 yards. "After a good junior year, Jacob had a breakout senior year to lead Wauconda to back-to-back playoff appearances."
Alan Espinosa Round LakeWinless at the time, Round Lake needed a 2-point conversion against Grant in Week 9 to help in its question to finally win a game. Espinosa, a senior running back, was all over that challenge. "Alan looked at his teammates as they broke the huddle and said, 'I'm getting this in for you guys.' As they say, the rest is history," Round Lake coach Cristo Garza said. Round Lake got the conversion and won the game, thanks in large part to Espinosa. "That's the kind of player Alan was, always playing for the guy next to him," Garza said. On the season, Espinosa rolled up 850 rushing yards and 300 receiving yards.
Griffin Gawenda Grayslake NorthGawenda seemed game for anything, as long as it helped the team. He spent part of his career as the back-up to star running back Dami Oladunmoye. But when Oladunmoye was hit with injuries last season and this season, Gawenda took the lead role in the backfield and flourished in that role too. "Griffin had an outstanding year at running back," Grayslake North coach Steve Wood said. "He was the ultimate teammate, never complaining about splitting reps and working hard every day. He was a state qualifier in track and his speed was evident on the field." Gawenda rolled up 1,132 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on 172 carries. He also had a kickoff return for a touchdown.
Ben Gutke AntiochA three-year linebacker, Gutke was the vocal leader of the Antioch defense. However, he also made plenty of noise as the Sequoits' kicker, handling all the place-kicking and punting duties for three years. This season, Gutke nailed a school-record 48-yard field goal, one of his three on the season. He also had 46 point-afters. "As one of the top kickers and punters in the Midwest, Ben will continue his abilities at the next level," Antioch coach Brian Glashagel said. Defensively, Gutke rolled up 53 tackles, including 2 for a loss. He has scored 2 defensive touchdowns as well.
Kyle Hull Vernon HillsThe driver of the Vernon Hills offense, Hull was in peak form this season, driving Vernon Hills all the way to the Class 5A state championship game. "We go as Kyle goes," Vernon Hills coach Bill Bellecomo said. "He could to it with his legs or his arm or his hands. He was a triple threat for us and a great all-around athlete at the QB position." Hull used his arm to throw for 1,237 yards and 14 touchdowns. He used his legs to run for 284 yards and 3 touchdowns. And he used his hands to catch 4 passes for 30 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Brandon Lind AntiochWhat a comeback story for Lind, a senior running back for Antioch. He tore his ACL, patella and meniscus last year before his junior season. Between then and the start of his senior season, he poured himself into his rehab, did a lot of strength training and even ran track. "He wanted to come into this season as close to 100 percent as he could, and man, did he ever," Antioch coach Brian Glashagel said. "He was our go-to guy. In short yardage, the entire stadium knew who was going to get the ball and still, he couldn't be stopped. Brandon is one of the best all-around football players I've ever coached." Lind rolled up 763 yards and 21 touchdowns on 110 carries.
Henry Marchese StevensonWhen all else failed, Stevenson had one very potent play that seemed to work every time. "Sometimes, we simply said, 'Throw the ball up there, and Henry will go get it,'" Stevenson coach Bill McNamara said. "Henry is simply the complete package as a football player. He is smart, athletic and physical on the field. He is a legit Division I football prospect because of his size, speed and skills." The 6-foot-3 Marchese had 63 receptions for 1,052 yards and 16 touchdowns, all school records. Marchese was 29-6 as a three-year starter and was a state champion in 2014. He has offers to Army and Bowling Green and as a walk-on to Wisconsin.
Michael Marchese StevensonThe leader of the Stevenson defense, Marchese not only talked the talk, but walked the walk. "He was the emotional leader of our defense and backed it up with his play," Stevenson coach Bill McNamara said. "Simply put, Michael plays with attitude and determination and energy. As a safety, he had the ability to take over games. He would make tackles behind the line of scrimmage for losses and then make interceptions 40 yards down field. He was asked to do a lot for our team and excelled at the challenge." Marchese, the 6-foot-3 twin of Henry Marchese, had 94 tackles, including 7 tackles for loss. He also had 3 interceptions. On offense, Marchese had 29 catches for 497 yards and 7 touchdowns. He has an offer to Army and a walk-on offer to Wisconsin.
Aidan O'Connell StevensonO'Connell was the most prolific quarterback in the area this season, as the Stevenson offense hummed with him at the controls. "Aidan was simply the most important piece of the puzzle for our team," Stevenson coach Bill McNamara said. "His numbers were off the charts. His is a big-time quarterback. He has incredible leadership skills and he has pin-point accuracy with his throws. He has the mind and understanding of the game and knows who should get the ball when they should get it and where they should get it. He was the point guard of our offense with 183 assists/completions." O'Connell set the school record for passing yards in a game with 447 against Muskegon of Michigan. He also set the season passing record with 2,741 yards, the season touchdown pass record of 26 and the season completion percentage of 61.6 percent. O'Connell averaged 304.6 passing yards per game. He was named to the Class 8A all-state team.
Melvin Pettis WarrenForget about keeping up with Pettis. "For two years of varsity football, I never saw him get caught from behind," Warren coach Brian McNulty said. "Every time he touched the ball, he had the ability to take to the house." Pettis, Warren's 5-foot-7 senior running back, did just that with 10 touchdowns, 9 on rushes and one on a kick-off return of 82 yards. Pettis rolled up 983 yards on 146 carries. "He was as dynamic as any player on the field this season," McNulty said. "He could do everything from carrying the football to catching it out of the backfield to returning a kick."
Cameron Ruiz LakesThere's going to be a big hole in the Lakes' offense and defense next year. Ruiz was a three-year starter at running back and defensive back. "Players of his caliber cannot be replaced," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. "He brought so much success to both our football and track programs. I'm looking forward to his continued success in the Big 10." Ruiz is a verbal commit to Northwestern. On his way to becoming a Wildcat, Ruiz was such a consistent force that he leaves his name all over the Eagles' record books. He ranks second all-time in career rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns. This season, he had more than 1,500 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns. He averaged 9 yards per carry and 14 yards per reception. On defense, Ruiz had 50 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He was named to the Class 6A all-state team.
Jack Sanborn Lake Zurich Already a three-year starter for Lake Zurich, the junior linebacker could be making history by next year. "He could end up being the all-time leading tackler for Lake Zurich next year," Lake Zurich coach Dave Proffitt said. "He's so smart and he studies a lot of film and he recognizes things on the field that you want in a linebacker. We really rely on that." A Class 7A all-state selection, Sanborn finished the season with 77 tackles, including 14 for a loss. He has offers from Iowa State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana and Duke.
Charlie Schmidt LibertyvilleBetter not expect Schmidt to take any shortcuts. "He continually frustrated opponents with his desire to block defenders until the whistle sounded," Libertyville coach Mike Jones said. "Charlie is one of the best linemen in the northern suburbs and was our most physical lineman. Just a junior, Schmidt already has college offers from Northwestern, Vanderbilt and Iowa State.
Jared Sims Grayslake NorthGrayslake North had two running backs in Griffin Gawenda and Dami Oladunmoye who combined for about 2,000 rushing yards this season. Sims led the offensive linemen who paved the way for such a potent rushing attack. "Jared has been our most consistent offensive lineman this year," Grayslake North coach Steve Wood said. "He has dominated his opponents in every game. Off the field, he is a three-sport athlete and a hard worker in the weight room."
Andrew "Chick" Smith Vernon HillsIt's no coincidence that Smith wore jersey No. 51, the same jersey worn by perhaps the most famous middle linebacker of all-time: Dick Butkus of the Chicago Bears. "Andrew is an 'old school' linebacker. He wears No. 51 well," Vernon Hills coach Bill Bellecomo said. "He was a lot of fun to coach over the past three years. The kid loves the game of football." Smith, a three-year starter at middle linebacker, rolled up 126.5 tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss. He also had 2 interceptions, 2 caused fumbles and a fumble recovery. The all-stater was a big reason that Vernon Hills had the best defense in Lake County this season and rode that all the way to the Class 5A state championship game.
Tyler Stankiewicz WaucondaA three-year starter on both sides of the ball for Wauconda, Stankiewicz was all business on the field. "Tyler was known for his intense focus and play," Wauconda coach Dave Mills said. "As a two-way starter, Tyler had a big impact on both sides of the ball." A linebacker, Stankiewicz finished as the team's second-leading tackler with a total of 57, including 2 tackles for loss, 2 fumble recoveries and 3 sacks. On offense at running back, Stankiewicz rushed for 1,055 yards on 111 carries with 7 touchdowns.
Joey Stutzman Lake ZurichWhen superstar running back Kyle Roth went down with a season-ending knee injury in the season opener, Stutzman was suddenly front and center. And he moved seamlessly from back-up to starter. Stutzman rolled up 1,298 yards and 15 touchdowns on 231 carries. "He's the toughest kid," Lake Zurich coach Dave Profitt said. "He (put us on this back). And his whole attitude was 'What can I do to make us successful?" Stutzman also played defense for Lake Zurich. As an outside linebacker, Stutzman rolled up 33 tackles, including 5 for a loss.
Andre Szmyt Vernon HillsVernon Hills coach Bill Bellecomo doesn't pull any punches when it comes to Szmyt. "I think Andre is the best kicker in the state," Bellecomo said. "His leg is huge. Andre may have been our biggest asset on offense and defense. Almost all of his kickoffs have gone through the end zone." Szmyt connected on 8-of-11 field goal attempts this season, including a 48-yarder. He was also 22-of-23 on extra points and he averaged 36.5 yards per punt as well.
Drew Winegardner Vernon HillsA jack of all trades and a gamer, Winegardner could do it all, including when the lights were brightest. "Drew was our best all-around football player," Vernon Hills coach Bill Bellecomo said. "He did it all for us. He played corner, free safety, running back, wide receiver, punt returner and kick returner. He even threw the ball when we needed him to. Drew has a high football IQ. The bigger the game, and the brighter the lights, the better Drew played." Winegardner had 28 total tackles, 5 interceptions, a punt return for a touchdown, 46 receptions for 505 yards and 4 touchdowns, 197 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns and an 8-yard passing touchdown.
Aaron Woolford MundeleinWoolford barely came off the field this season. Unless you count timeouts and halftime. He started at safety, started at tailback and was the Mustangs' top kick returner. "Aaron is a great player in all three phases of the game," Mundelein coach Larry Calhoun said. "He was also a team captain and our most valuable player on offense." At safety, Woolford had a team-leading 64 tackles and 4 interceptions, including a 90-yarder for a touchdown. At tailback, Woolford averaged more than 5 yards per carry and caught 21 passes for 160 yards. As a returner, he had a 90-yard kickoff return. He averaged 140 all-purpose yards per game.
Player School Yr. Pos.
Zaire Barnes Carmel Jr. RB/DB
Brendan Bazar Libertyville Jr. RB
George Bessette Antioch Sr. LB
Jacob Bicknase Wauconda Sr. RB
Alan Espinosa Round Lake Sr. RB
Griffin Gawenda Grayslake North Sr. RB
Ben Gutke Antioch Sr. LB/K/P
Kyle Hull Vernon Hills Sr. QB
Brandon Lind Antioch Sr. RB
Henry Marchese Stevenson Sr. WR
Michael Marchese Stevenson Sr. WR/S
Aidan O'Connell Stevenson Sr. QB
Melvin Pettis Warren Sr. RB
Cameron Ruiz Lakes Sr. RB/DB
Jack Sanborn Lake Zurich Jr. LB/TE/FB
Charlie Schmidt Libertyville Jr. OL
Jared Sims Grayslake North Sr. OL
*Andrew "Chick" Smith Vernon Hills Sr. LB
Tyler Stankiewicz Wauconda Sr. RB/LB
Joey Stutzman Lake Zurich Jr. RB/OLB
Andre Szmyt Vernon Hills Sr. K
Drew Winegardner Vernon Hills Sr. CB/S/RB/WR
Aaron Woolford Mundelein Sr. RB/DB
*All-area team captain
Honorable mentionDE Cole Adkins, Sr., Grayslake Central; RB Mikey Andrews, Sr., Grayslake Central; DL Blake Bransky, Sr., Lake Zurich; WR Peter Brewster, Jr., Grayslake Central; DL Kyle Buncic, Sr., Libertyville; TE/DE Payton Campbell, Grayslake North; LB Jake Cerwin, Jr., Carmel; OL Jack Christensen, Sr., Lakes; DB Joey Conway, Sr., Grant; OL Brad Drazner, Sr., Stevenson; DE/TE Sammy Escobar, Sr., Mundelein; OL Ian Fitzgerald, Jr., Lake Zurich; QB Branden Gallimore, Jr., Antioch; OL Robert Gerling, Sr., Wauconda; K Matt Hellen, Sr., Carmel; WR Elliott Hochstein, Grayslake North; LB Trey Hommer, Sr., Vernon Hills; WR Micah Jones, Jr., Warren; OL Tyler Jost, Sr., Libertyville; FS Jake Lange, Sr., Warren; LB Spencer Lautner, Sr., Grant; LB Teddy Lowe, Jr., Warren; DL JT Lorian, Jr., Lakes; LB Alex Machon, Sr., Wauconda; DL Jared Maravella, Sr., Grant; ILB Sam Marks, Jr., Stevenson; WR/LB Chris Mariella, Sr., Vernon Hills; DB/WR Nick Marras, Sr., Vernon Hills; LB/RB Ryan McGeever, Sr., Lake Zurich; OL Luke McNamara, Sr., Warren; WR/S Alex Miller, Sr., Lake Zurich; LB Joey Murphy, soph., Grayslake Central; DL Ryan O'Malley, Sr., Libertyville; K/P Kyle Obsuszt, Sr., Lake Zurich; RB/CB Dami Oladunmoye, Sr., Grayslake North; OL Andy Picchietti, Sr., Lakes; RB Hunter Price, Jr., Antioch; OL Joey Ptasienski, Sr., Carmel; LB Jeff Rosenstock, Sr., Vernon Hills; WR/S Ryan Selig, Jr., Lakes; OL Mitch Sharer, Sr., Mundelein; RB Anthony Sibo, Sr., Stevenson; DB Leon Small, Sr., Lakes; OL/DL Austin Tiffany, Sr., Lakes; WR Jalin Tolbert, Sr., Warren; DL Diego Torrez, Sr., Lakes; DL Michael Turzynski, Sr., Wauconda; OLB Logan Weber, Sr., Antioch.
Selections and profiles by Patricia Babcock McGraw