Football is not baseball, but strength up the middle still helps. Glenbard East has that.
Rams quarterback Bret Bushka and linebacker Jack Baka weren't just thrown into the fray last season as sophomores. They earned it. Then each of them earned all-conference honors in the Upstate Eight's Valley Division.
Glenbard East coach John Walters raved about Baka's play and 73 tackles at linebacker in 2016, second on the team to the graduated Zach Netchin. Baka also made 7 tackles for loss and led the Rams with 4 pass breakups.
Bushka, Walters said, is a special athlete.
"He could do it all. He could probably not come off the field -- return punts, return kicks, mow your grass, wash your car," Walters said, jokingly. "He's an elite high school football player at a number of positions."
Bushka ran for 439 yards and 6 touchdowns and threw for 1,359 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Rams also benefit by returning last year's backup quarterback, senior Jared Rech, plus their leading receiver in 2016, Kenny Adams, who caught 34 passes for 451 yards and 5 touchdowns. Fellow returner Jeremy Johnson caught 33 passes for 284 yards.
Though athletic senior wideout Keonta Nixon transferred to Lake Park, between Bushka, the receivers and returning running back Jack Oberli -- limited by injury to four games as a junior -- Walters seeks offensive balance to lift the Rams from the UEC Valley pack and challenge West Aurora and South Elgin.
The key, particularly against a perilous schedule, is developing both sides of the line around returning offensive guard Jack Crackel and defensive end Pat Lyons.
"For us with all the skill guys we've got returning with that experience, our goal is going to be to control the line of scrimmage," Walters said.
-- Dave Oberhelman
One to watch: The Rams have played some barnburners with South Elgin, which visits Lombard in Week 3.
Coach: John Walters (seventh year, 13-41; eighth year overall, 15-48).
2016 record: 2-7, 2-3, fourth in the Upstate Eight Valley.
Top players: Kenny Adams (WR, 6-1, 160, sr.), Jack Baka (LB, 6-0, 180, jr.), Bret Bushka (QB, 5-10, 180, jr.), Jack Crackel (OL, 6-0, 250, sr.), Jeremy Johnson (WR, 6-0, 170, jr.), Nehemiah Jones (DB, 6-2, 185, jr.), Pat Lyons (DL, 6-3, 195, sr.), Jack Oberli (RB, 5-9, 185, sr.), Kevin Saxon (DB, 5-10, 180, sr.), Anthony Shockey (LB, 6-1, 200, jr.).
Fri, 8/25, Glenbard East at Lake Forest, 7 p.m.
Fri, 9/1, St. Charles East at Glenbard East, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/8, South Elgin at Glenbard East, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/15, Glenbard East at West Aurora, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/22, Glenbard East at St. Charles North, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/29, East Aurora at Glenbard East, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/6, Jacobs at Glenbard East, 7:15 p.m.
Fri, 10/13, Glenbard East at West Chicago, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/20, Bartlett at Glenbard East, 7:30 p.m.