Glenbard West's football program learned to live with the target on its back in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division.
Will it drift away from the Hilltoppers this season? Not likely, but the target is expanding.
Last year Hinsdale Central won its first Silver title since 2004, beating the Hilltoppers in overtime to break their streak of five straight outright titles. Throw a talented Lyons Twp. team in the mix, and this season's Silver race should be interesting.
"People are still looking at us, but I think the target's gotten a little smaller," said Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet. "You've got to put the target on Hinsdale Central or Lyons at this point."
For now, they'll all have to share it.
Glenbard West has an electric offense, headed by the running back tandem of Ryan Diver and Dre Thomas that last season combined for 2,000 rushing yards. Alec Pierce, loaded with scholarship offers, added 800 receiving yards.
The inexperienced Glenbard West defense, though, will have its hands full slowing conference opponents. Hinsdale Central, for example, brings back 1,000-yard rusher Luke Skokna, Indiana-bound tight end Matt Bjorson and receiver Garrett Oakey.
Lyons Twp. also beat Glenbard West last season, and did so with quarterback Ben Bryant leading the way. The University of Cincinnati recruit returns with an even better supporting cast.
Oak Park looks to reload after being a fourth Silver qualifier last year. Behind strong running games, York and Downers Grove North will try to keep up with the front-runners and vie for playoff berths.
"Anytime you win the conference, you definitely put the target on your back," said Hinsdale Central coach Dan Hartman. "We've talked about it with the kids. It's a little bit different when someone's chasing you instead of you chasing them."
As usual, the Gold Division is up for grabs in the West Suburban. Several teams loom in position to dethrone defending champion Leyden.
Willowbrook returns two-way standout Jack Jessen, a Northwestern wrestling recruit who last season rushed for 1,671 yards and had 138 tackles at linebacker. The key is replacing the graduated skill that surrounded him.
"We need to focus on Week 1 before looking at the conference title," said Warriors coach Nick Hildreth, "but we feel like we can be competitive every week."
Addison Trail also welcomes back a 1,000-yard rusher in Nick D'Ambrose. If Downers Grove South quarterback Matt Greenwald can stay healthy after missing much of last season due to injury, the Mustangs should contend for the crown.
As balanced as the Gold appears, Hinsdale South might rate an edge. Quarterback Justin Kolzow returns after last season splitting time behind center, and he'll have one of the area's top receivers in Destin Talbert.
"We were disappointed in how we finished last season," said Hornets coach Mike Barry. "We think we've got a chance to really bounce back."
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