Third place doesn't sit very well with a football program accustomed to first.
Batavia's run of five consecutive Upstate Eight Conference River Division football titles ended last season when it finished third after losing to champion St. Charles East and second-place St. Charles North.
The Bulldogs went on to win a Class 7A playoff game against McHenry by 30 points and finished 8-3 after a second-round loss at Jacobs.
Batavia aims to reclaim the UEC River's top spot in the league's final season of existence. Coach Dennis Piron says his 80-man varsity, which includes six returning offensive starters and five on defense, has the talent and work ethic to challenge for a sixth title in seven season and make another deep playoff run.
"I think this team has a chance to be really special," Piron said. "From a physical standpoint, it's one of the strongest teams if not the strongest we've had at Batavia."
Offensively, junior quarterback Riley Cooper, senior running back Reggie Phillips, wide receiver Tom Stuttle and two offensive linemen return to an offense that averaged 35 points and 394 yards per game in 2016.
Cooper, a 65-percent passer (91-of-140), threw for 972 yards and 9 touchdowns and was picked 4 times. Stuttle is his leading returning receiver. The 5-11, 180-pound senior caught 29 passes for 335 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Phillips is the area's fourth-leading returning rusher. Last fall he carried 169 times for 1,039 yards (6.1 avg.) and 9 touchdowns and fumbled the ball away just once.
The Bulldogs are deep at running back. Senior Jeremiah Evers rushed for 201 yards and 3 scores on 27 carries last year, the versatile Jared Martin is a threat at multiple positions and junior Elijah Green impressed over the summer, Piron said. Together, they give Batavia backfield speed few teams can match.
The offensive line is in flux after graduating some beefy veterans, but the unit retains brawn in senior tackle Nolan Eike (6-6, 295) and senior guard Chris Monroe (6-3, 250).
Senior safety Kyle Niemiec returns after a record-setting junior season. Named all-area and all-UEC River last year, he set the program's single-season record for tackles with 123 (99 solo). He is joined in the secondary by fellow senior safety Andrew Heinz, whose 80 tackles in 2016 included 8.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss, both team highs.
Other key returnees for a defense that allowed 20.7 points per game include senior tackle Max McFadden (5-10, 230) and junior linebackers Michael Jansey (6-2, 210) and Luke Weerts (6-2, 230). McFadden registered 2.5 sacks and 4 tackles for loss, while Jansey and Weerts combined for 133 tackles (109 solo), 7 sacks 16 tackles for loss and 19 quarterback hurries.
Is it enough for Batavia to reclaim the top spot in the UEC River?
"We're very excited about what we saw this summer," Piron said. "We saw improvement in a lot of areas, and we have a lot of speed on both sides of the ball."