Once more unto the breach...
DuPage Valley Conference football may not be as poetic as Shakespeare's Henry V, but for decades it's epitomized excellence on the gridiron. It comes to an end after this season, at least in the form we've come to know and love.
At the end of this school year, Glenbard North, Lake Park, Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South depart to create the DuKane Conference with Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North. That'll leave Metea Valley, Naperville Central, Naperville North, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley as the remaining schools in a patchwork DVC for 2018-19.
Before we peer into the league's unknown future, though, let's enjoy what'll be a tremendous "final" season.
"You've got the whole range of emotions," said Naperville North coach Sean Drendel. "As a guy who played in the conference and watched it thrive, there's a good amount of sentimentality and some bittersweet feelings."
The Huskies and Neuqua Valley shared the title last season, but this year the focus starts elsewhere. You'll find three top contenders in Waubonsie Valley, Naperville Central and Glenbard North.
The Warriors might have the DVC's top offense, and that's saying something.
Quarterback Tanner Westwood last season rolled up nearly 2,000 total yards, including 35 catches for 671 yards to 6-foot-4, 225-pound tight end Charles Robinson, who just committed to Northern Illinois. The Warriors also return running back Nate Ashford, who rushed for 949 yards, and receiver Eric Esch.
"It's well-balanced, one of the best football leagues in the state, so to pick a favorite is not an easy thing to do," said Waubonsie Valley coach Paul Murphy. "I think it's going to be as competitive as ever."
Thanks to a couple of key transfers, Naperville Central will challenge Waubonsie Valley for top offensive honors. The Redhawks already returned all-DVC running back A.J. Deinhart before welcoming the arrival of two former Metea Valley players: quarterback Payton Thorne, an all-DVC pick, and Western Michigan-bound receiver Jayden Reed.
Like the Warriors, Naperville Central needs its defense to overcome inexperience in key spots.
"Our goal every year is to contend for the conference title," said Redhawks coach Mike Stine. "We'll find out about ourselves early with Glenbard North and Neuqua Valley right out of the gate."
Speaking of the Panthers, a running back-by-committee situation combined with first-year starting quarterback Lee Rady makes an experienced offensive line, led by Jose Vazquez, even more critical. With Minnesota recruit Tyrik Henderson anchoring the secondary, Glenbard North has one of the DVC's top defenses.
After relying on a dominant running game last year, Naperville North boasts immense talent in the passing game. Quarterback Drake Davis, who holds an Eastern Illinois offer, transferred in from Bureau Valley. He's joined by returning receivers Nick Calcagno, who's been offered by Northern Illinois among others, and Ryan Laurenzo.
Neuqua Valley may not have the big-name talent from a year ago, but watch out for the Wildcats. They return quarterback Jake Eskoff, who threw for 945 yards in split time last season, and running back Cameron Raupach, who rushed for 838 yards.
"Our No. 1 goal is to win the conference outright," said Wildcats coach Bill Ellinghaus.
Most people link Lake Park with stellar defense, but this season opponents must be wary of the Lancers' offense. Quarterback Jackson Behles threw for 1,600 yards last year and he's joined by receivers Dan Spejcher and Diamante Smith, who missed significant time due to injury last season.
Overcoming the loss of Thorne and Reed won't be easy, but Metea Valley will lean on a talented offensive line led by Penn State-bound tackle Bryce Effner. Wheaton North's ground game is among the DVC's best with running backs Sam Singleton and Antowon Tolbert, who last season combined for more than 1,200 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.
WW South's defense allowed 38 points a game last season, but the Tigers are improved with an experienced line, Brian Haw returning at linebacker, and ballhawks Jake Healy, Parker Robinson and Dan Schricker back in the secondary.
If the Tigers develop a consistent pass game with quarterback Zach Harris, they could be a team to watch thanks to the return of running back Ryan Young, who rushed for 668 yards.
"Leaving (the DVC) is kind of bittersweet for me as a coach, but we need to start playing schools that are closer to our enrollment," said Tigers coach Ron Muhitch. "I think everyone's going to be extra motivated to do well this season."
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