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Daily Herald's 2017 Season Coverage
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updated: 8/8/2017 12:44 PM

Five things to watch for this fall in DuPage County football

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  • Naperville Central football practice on Monday.

      Naperville Central football practice on Monday.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • IC Catholic Prep football players work on their footwork during practice.

      IC Catholic Prep football players work on their footwork during practice.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 

Since the IHSA series began in 1974, DuPage County football teams have won 30 state championships.

It'll be another three months before we find out if the list grows, but the work officially starts now.

The 2017 football season kicked off Monday with the first day of practice. To celebrate we bring you five things to watch this fall as DuPage County's 28 teams start a journey they hope ends with a Thanksgiving weekend trip to DeKalb.

Title chasing:

IC Catholic Prep's football team must create its own identity this season.

The run to the 2016 Class 3A title was as memorable as it was spectacular, but it resides in the past.

"The title's been won for 2016. That's over," said Knights coach Bill Krefft. "We have another title that's completely open and up for grabs."

Don't be surprised if the Knights grab it again.

Despite graduating running back Jordan Rowell, last season's Daily Herald DuPage County All-Area football captain, 13 starters return to lead a group capable of repeating.

Quarterback Luke Ricobene enters his fourth starting season after last year accounting for 3,000 total yards, including 2,400 passing yards and 30 touchdowns. The Knights blew out every team they played during their title run, and they'll have another potent offense with running back Lazerick Eatman, receivers Khalil and Khali Saunders and three returning linemen.

The favorites among the bigger schools also look familiar. While 2016 Class 8A finalists Loyola and Maine South will be strong again, DuPage County boasts its share of contenders.

Perennial Class 7A power Glenbard West reached the 8A semifinals last season. Regardless of the class they fall in this year, the Hilltoppers will be tough as ever -- especially on offense.

Running backs Ryan Diver and Dre Thomas are back along with receiver Alec Pierce, who holds about a dozen college scholarship offers. The focus usually rests on the Hilltoppers' traditionally stingy defense, but the offense may need to carry the load early.

"It's a lot of no-name kids that people haven't really heard about," said Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet. "We need our defense to come together, but this has the potential to be a really good group."

As always, the team emerging as the DuPage Valley Conference champion likely will be a state title contender. The question is, who will it be?

Naperville Central received a huge boost with the transfer of quarterback Payton Thorne and Jayden Reed from Metea Valley. The Redhawks suddenly find themselves among the top teams in the conference with Waubonsie Valley, led by quarterback Tanner Westwood and tight end Charles Robinson, and Glenbard North, powered by offensive lineman Jose Vazquez and defensive back Tyrik Henderson.

"We feel good about the talent we have, but we'll have to see," said Naperville Central coach Mike Stine. "Our schedule will let us know right away."

On the board:

Even as he watches several other local players commit to colleges, Waubonsie Valley's Charles Robinson is sticking to his own timeline for making the decision.

For now, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior tight end is simply trying to enjoy the process.

"It's been a lot of fun meeting everyone at all the schools, the coaches and the players," Robinson said. "It feels real good that all my hard work and perseverance has paid off."

Robinson, the 19th-ranked senior recruit in the state, according to Rivals, is closing in on double-digit scholarship offers that include Minnesota in the Big Ten, Iowa State in the Big 12 and Mississippi State in the SEC. While Robinson continues to weigh the offers, other area athletes have made their choice.

As usual, the Big Ten scooped up the bulk of the top talent.

Glenbard North defensive back Tyrik Henderson, ranked fifth in the state by Rivals, is headed to Minnesota. Greg Newsome, Henderson's secondary mate last season with the Panthers, is committed to Northwestern but recently decided to transfer to play his senior season at IMG Academy in Florida.

Metea Valley offensive lineman Bryce Effner, the state's ninth-ranked senior who's committed to Penn State, is another Big Ten recruit from the DuPage Valley Conference.

Hinsdale Central tight end Matt Bjorson, committed to Indiana, also earned a spot in the Rivals top 25. Naperville Central receiver Jayden Reed, a Metea Valley transfer, is committed to Western Michigan.

Robinson eventually will join the list of committed players, but he won't rush things.

"I told myself that I'd probably commit at the end of the season," Robinson said. "Right now I have goals this season to be two-time all-state, two-time all-(DuPage Valley) Conference and help my team get a state title."

New coaches:

New Montini coach Mike Bukovsky is more concerned with replicating Chris Andriano's significance and spirit more than his statistics.

"It's about filling his role as the head of this program, his role as a spokesman for our school and, quite frankly, filling his role as a man," said the 1983 Broncos graduate known as "Coach Bu."

"Those are the three things I think most about. I don't think about numbers or titles or any of that. I want to have the same success he did in terms of molding men."

While Andriano will remain behind the scenes, last December the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee retired after 38 seasons, 300 victories and six state championships.

Bukovsky is well-steeped in winning. He led Montini wrestling to national prominence and won eight state titles in 16 seasons. Bukovsky continues to coach Montini softball, which won the 2016 Class 3A title.

Most pertinent, Bukovsky was defensive coordinator for each of the Broncos' state football champions and for 27 seasons in all. Starting as an awed, intimidated freshman in "Coach A's" program to seeing Andriano as mentor, then friend -- now "consigliere," Bukovsky said, jokingly -- few have greater understanding of Andriano's legacy.

"It's just been a great situation for me and now it's gone on to another extension of the relationship for me," Bukovsky said. "He's gone on to be a guru or a spiritual adviser, so to speak."

Bukovsky is one of four new football coaches in DuPage County programs.

St. Francis coach Bob McMillen is a 1988 graduate of Immaculate Conception, learning chops and grit from the late Jack Lewis. McMillen's son, Bobby, is a redshirt sophomore linebacker at Iowa State out of Naperville Central. The elder McMillen, an Arena League Hall of Famer, has successfully headed Naperville Patriots Youth Football.

"Things have been going well," Bob McMillen said. "I've been getting a lot of support from alumni, people in the school. The kids have been great, the parents."

After last season Fenton coach Mark Kos resigned then served on the committee that hired his successor -- his first choice and "a great man of character," 10-year Marengo coach Matthew Lynch.

A former Dundee-Crown quarterback, Lynch assisted Fenton's Mark Carman from 2000-03 before moving on. At Marengo Lynch transformed a winless team into one that went 22-10 the last three seasons, 12-1 in 2016.

"I couldn't have asked for a better transition," Lynch said of his return to Fenton.

Dan Woulfe was raised in southern Oklahoma but will not install the wishbone at Westmont or throw the ball 50 times a game in the tradition of retired Otto Zeman.

"Absolutely not," Woulfe said. "We're going to look to control the clock."

An Air Force graduate, since Woulfe met his wife, Lacy, and headed east he's assisted at Waubonsie Valley, Metea Valley and Oswego East, specializing in defensive secondary work. His goal at Westmont is to build from the ground up.

"The No. 1 thing, before wins and losses, I said we need to increase the numbers," Woulfe said. "We've done that. Not dramatically increased them, but the numbers are higher than last year."

Welcome:

The adjustment may be different but the goals are the same for quarterbacks Payton Thorne and Drake Davis.

They aim to tip the balance of power in the DuPage Valley Conference and the playoffs.

Thorne, a junior, transferred from Metea Valley to Naperville Central after completing 60 percent of his 196 passes for 1,648 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore on varsity for the Mustangs. Davis, a senior, transferred to Naperville North from Bureau Valley, where last year he accounted for 2,700 total yards as a dual threat behind center.

Needless to say, it's a major boost to both programs.

For Thorne, who already holds a scholarship offer from Western Michigan, the transition from one DVC school to another has been smooth. He expects to hit the ground running in an offense that was expected to be explosive even before his arrival.

In addition to returning all-DVC running back A.J. Deinhart, lineman Luke Hallstrom and receivers Tommy Coyne and Tommy Carlson, Naperville Central also welcomes receiver Jayden Reed, another transfer from Metea Valley who has committed to Western Michigan.

"It's been a lot of fun," said Thorne, whose father is North Central College football coach Jeff Thorne and whose grandfather is retired Wheaton Warrenville South and North Central College coach John Thorne. "My family made the move for a lot of reasons, but I'm definitely glad that I'm here. I'm beyond excited to be where I am."

Davis faced a transition much bigger than the 100-mile journey from Manlius to Naperville. But the jump from Class 1A to Class 8A -- not to mention the jump to the ultracompetitive DVC -- is a challenge he's ready to tackle.

Davis, like Thorne, will be working with talented and experienced playmakers in receivers Nick Calcagno, who holds a Northern Illinois University offer, and Ryan Laurenzo.

"Everyone I've talked to says how tough it is in the DVC, toughest conference in the state," said Davis, who picked up his first scholarship offer from Eastern Illinois. "I've adjusted to the speed here, so I'm ready to go. We're a close-knit group, and I think that'll show on the field."

DVC, DKC, etc.:

One more season before conference alignments go kerflooey.

In the 2018-19 calendar year the DuPage Valley Conference will lose nearly half its member schools in the league's biggest shake-up since its 1975 debut.

Glenbard North, Lake Park, Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South will join Upstate Eight Conference River Division émigrés Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North to form the new DuKane Conference.

Lake Park will join its third conference in seven seasons, having moved to the DVC from the Upstate Eight in 2013. Lancers coach and alumnus Chris Roll is glad the Glenbard North rivalry will be maintained and welcomes playing St. Charles East again but also wishes the DVC Lake Park initially joined -- with Glenbard East and West Aurora -- had stayed pat.

"In some ways it's been a huge distraction, and it's frustrating," Roll said.

Still, Roll has no regrets and anticipated a sharp 2017 campaign.

"I think it'll be kind of a big deal whoever walks away having a great season," he said.

The DuKane will leave Metea Valley, Naperville Central, Naperville North, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley on their own DVC island; earlier this year Bolingbrook, Oswego and Oswego East rejected an invitation to join.

Neuqua Valley tied Naperville North for the DVC title in 2016, the Wildcats' second year in the league. Neuqua coach Bill Ellinghaus said his players focus on whoever's on the schedule, but he called the move "a little unsettling."

"I think there's a lot of people that are not happy with the dismantling of the DVC," Ellinghaus said. "This is not something we're looking forward to, but the fact we have one last year together, I think we're looking forward to a great year of competition from start to finish."

After four seasons playing in the Chicago Catholic League, St. Francis in 2018-19 will join the Metro Suburban Conference, while the MSC next year will lose Glenbard South to the Upstate Eight Conference.

Now a two-division setup, the UEC will shift to one 10-team conference. The Metro Suburban will remain two divisions with St. Francis expected to join the MSC Blue.

St. Francis' new coach, Bob McMillen, was told of the conference switch the day he was hired in February.

"I could care less. You've got to play the games that are in front of you," he said.

Glenbard South coach Ryan Crissey is of the "change is good" school, as the Raiders will face all new foes save Glenbard East, but he also sides with McMillen.

"We are definitely not thinking beyond the upcoming football season," Crissey said. "The focus is Addison Trail in Week 1 and then each game after that. We just want to have the best season that we possibly can in our current conference and figure out what's happening with the Upstate Eight Conference the following season."

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