Cary-Grove gets no time to ease into the football season.
The Trojans' opening-night opponent is anything but a cupcake, though defending Class 6A state champion Prairie Ridge and Iowa-bound option quarterback Samson Evans do play a sweet brand of football.
It's a rematch of the 2016 season opener, which the Wolves won 26-14. The game essentially decided the Fox Valley Conference title. Prairie Ridge went unbeaten through the FVC, and second-place Cary-Grove didn't lose another game until a quarterfinal loss to DeKalb.
Had the Trojans defeated DeKalb, they would have faced Prairie Ridge again last November in a state semifinal. Instead, the rematch had to wait until Aug. 25.
"I think the kids felt we were going to play (Prairie Ridge) again last year," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said. "They thought we would beat DeKalb and get them again, so our kids have been sitting on that for 12 months."
The Cary-Grove triple-option offense is difficult to stop in an ordinary year, even more so when the offensive line is stout like it is this season. Seaburg calls the line "our strength right now."
Leading the unit are returning starters Addison West (6-3, 270), Colton Ruhland (6-1, 250) and Cadin Koeppel (6-0, 210). West has an offer from Central Michigan, Ruhland from Winona State.
Joining that group as a starter is senior Brett Groves (6-5, 310). He enjoyed a productive off-season and committed earlier this month to Southern Illinois. Also returning is tight end Jake Buss (6-1, 215), a determined blocker, according to his coach.
They'll try to make room for junior quarterback Quinn Priester, senior fullback Max Skol, junior halfback Danny Daigle and senior slot back Adam DeAlba.
Skol, a Class 6A all-state honorable mention selection last year, filled in for program all-time leading rusher Tyler Pennington early on when Pennington missed time with an ankle injury. Skol rushed for 335 yards and 7 touchdowns on 61 carries (5.5 avg.).
Priester started at split end last season but the athletic baseball prospect already committed to Texas Christian saw several quarters of action at quarterback, his natural position. The 6-foot-3, 181-pounder averaged 8.3 rushing yards in 33 carries. He rushed for 273 yards and 3 scores and completed 6 of 11 pass attempts for 158 yards and a touchdown.
Skol is the heart of the defense. As a hybrid safety/linebacker in defensive coordinator Don Sutherland's ever-evolving scheme, he led Cary-Grove with 49.5 tackles (22 solo, 55 assists), including a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss.
Also returning are junior corners Danny Daigle and Ben Ferrell. Daigle's speed translated to 39.5 tackles (21 solo, 39 assists), an interception and a forced fumble. Ferrell, an agile wrestler, forced 2 fumbles, made 29.5 tackles and tied for the team lead with 3 interceptions.
Most of the line and all linebackers must be replaced, but strong candidates stand ready. D.J. Gajewski rotated in regularly on the defensive line last year and registered 18 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
At linebacker, Dan Gilroy (6-3, 225) and Jack Trauger (6-3, 212) would have started at most schools but had the misfortune of playing behind all-FVC veterans Pennington and Kevin Pedersen. Still, Gilroy managed 3 sacks among 20 tackles and Trauger posted 24 tackles (8 solo).
"I think we have the pieces in place to make a run, but a lot of things have to happen for you to have those kinds of seasons," Seaburg said. "But I certainly feel like we have the leadership within the senior class and quite a bit of talent, too. We'll see how it goes."