Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet puts the team through running drills during the first day of football practice on Wednesday in Glen Ellyn.
Bev Horne | Staff Photographer
Glenbard West quarterback Justice Odom during the first day of football practice on Wednesday in Glen Ellyn.
Bev Horne | Staff Photographer
Don't expect anything to be settled early in the West Suburban Conference this season.
In both the Silver and Gold divisions, crucial football games late in the campaign will go a long way in determining the champions.
Defending Gold champion Downers Grove South and top challenger Addison Trail meet in Week 9 in Addison while two of last season's three Silver champions Glenbard West and York play in Week 8 in Glen Ellyn.
"We've got to make sure we take care of business all season," said Addison Trail coach Paul Parpet. "But if things go the way I think they should this season, it should come down to us and Downers South in Week 9."
Downers South is the clear Gold favorite after winning the last four titles, but Addison Trail, which won the Gold in 2006, is poised to end the Mustangs' reign. Sixteen starters return for the Blazers, including seven players who started as sophomores two years ago.
Running back-receiver Anthony Catanese, last year's offensive player of the year in the Gold, is one of the many skill players returning. He and Anthony Messina combined for 1,100 rushing yards while quarterback Trevor Bermingham threw for 900 yards.
Downers South's strength lies with a defense that brings back seven starters headed by linebacker Lance Leong and defensive back Danny Leach in addition to lineman Josh Aldrin, who missed last season with a torn ACL. With third-year running back Josh Williams back from a 1,000-yard campaign, the Mustangs are ready to defend their title.
"On paper people are probably talking about us and Addison Trail," said Downers South coach John Belskis. "This is the third year for a lot of those Addison Trail players, so I'm sure they're expecting to do well."
After Downers South and Addison Trail, uncertainty sits with the rest of the Gold. Nick Hildreth is Willowbrook's new coach, while Mike Barry takes over at Hinsdale South and Steven Tadlock is the new coach at Proviso East. Leyden will lean on 17 junior starters.
The picture in the Silver looks similar to last year when Glenbard West, York and Lyons Twp. shared the title after the Lions' stunning Week 9 defeat of the Hilltoppers. Glenbard West, which faces Lyons Twp. in Week 3 this season, is again the heavy favorite to win a fourth straight Silver title.
Penn State-bound defensive lineman Tommy Schutt and third-year offensive lineman Johnny Caspers head the list of 11 returning starters for Glenbard West. With running back Kendall Johnson, receiver Nathan Marcus and quarterback Justice Odom in the mix, the Hilltoppers boast an explosive offense.
"We've got a lot of talent this year, but we know it'll be a challenge," said Hilltoppers coach Chad Hetlet. "The Silver's one of the best conferences in the state."
York hopes to dethrone Glenbard West with its own explosive offense led by receivers David Byerley and Jordan Preuss. Fourth-year starter Nick Skuteris returns to the defense where he'll switch between the line and linebacker.
"We'd like to be playing for a conference title in Week 8, but we've got to get to Week 8 first," said York coach Bill Lech.
Lyons Twp. returns a good deal of its offense headed by running back Jaime Jones, who rushed for 162 yards and 3 touchdowns in last year's 31-13 win over Glenbard West. Proviso West looks to build off its second straight playoff appearance, while Downers Grove North's split-back veer ground game will see some diversity with the passing game of returning quarterback Riley McGinnis.
Oak Park has a new coach in John Hoerster, while Hinsdale Central welcomes first-year coach Rich Tarka.
"I think you've got a head-and-shoulder team with Glenbard West," said Downers North coach John Wander. "But our whole conference from top to bottom is unreal with talented teams."