Crystal Lake South's new football coach has a familiar plan.
Rob Fontana, an assistant since 2005 with the exceptions of 2008 and 2009, takes over for Chuck Ahsmann, who retired from coaching after making the playoffs four times in seven seasons.
Fontana intends to use CL South's strengths -- an above average offensive line, a third-year running back and a defense with eight returning starters -- to play the brand of smash-mouth football for which the Gators are known.
"We want our defense to be aggressive yet sound in what they're doing: bend don't break," said Fontana, a 2000 Jacobs graduate. "Offensively, we're going into this knowing we have to control the clock and move the ball with a veteran offensive line, eat up some time and keep our defense off the field as long as we need to."
The plan centers on an offensive line led by four-star recruit Trevor Keegan, one of the most sought-after college prospects statewide. The 6-foot-6, 290-pound junior begins his third varsity season with offers on the table from Michigan, Penn State, Northwestern, Illinois and Minnesota, among others. He plans to take in-season visits to LSU, Oklahoma and Michigan, according to Rivals.com.
Keegan anchors a line that also returns senior center Tommy Atella (5-9, 210), who moves from guard to center, and sophomore Dom Collado (6-3, 290), who started as a freshman. Though not technically a returning lineman, tight end Noah Tyrrell (6-1, 185) -- the batting hero of CL South baseball's state championship run last spring -- is a strong blocker, his coach said.
That unit will try to clear a path for two-time returning all-Fox Valley Conference pick Kyle Leva, who moves from fullback to featured ball carrier. In 9 games at fullback last season, Leva rushed for 594 yards and 5 touchdowns on 79 carries (8.1-yard avg.) and made 22 catches for 342 yards and 3 scores.
Otherwise, the offensive personnel is inexperienced at the varsity level. Fontana had yet to name a starting quarterback less than two weeks before the season opener but said it will be one of three players: senior Bradyn Tucker (6-1, 180), senior Dylan Rhoades (6-0, 180) or sophomore Ian Gorken (5-9, 180).
Defensively, the Gators are more experienced. Returning starters include senior cornerback Sam Greenspan (6-0, 205), senior inside linebacker Cullen Chudik (5-11, 205), two-year starter Tyler Beckwith (6-2, 245) at linebacker, senior defensive lineman Ryan Stratton (5-11, 215), senior outside linebacker Teegan Orzehoskie (5-9, 170), senior inside linebacker John Martin (6-0, 180), junior linebacker Jake Kocemba (6-1, 190) and senior lineman Joey Bianchi (6-1, 190).
The defense returns last season's top three tacklers and seven of its top 10 overall. Greenspan led in tackles (42.5), forced a fumble and broke up 4 passes. Beckwith made 42 tackles, including 2 sacks and 5 tackles for loss, and Chudik was third with 40.5 tackles with 4 tackles for loss.
Fontana, the team's defensive coordinator the past three seasons, will call the offense. Jason Nawracaj takes over as defensive coordinator. He is a CL South and Aurora University graduate who previously coached the secondary.
Fontana hopes the momentum of a strong off-season in the weight room pays dividends this fall and moving forward.
"A lot of teams in our conference have been good for a long time because they've been doing things in the off-season to get better," he said. "We're starting fresh and have to build that culture, but I can't give my guys enough credit. They're really buying into what we want in the weight room. If I told them to run through a wall right now, they'd do it."