Second-year Huntley coach Matt Gehrig has his team ready to compete in the tough Fox Valley Conference Valley Division. The Red Raiders open the season at home tonight against Crystal Lake Central.
BRIAN HILL | Staff Photographer
Huntley isn't the first name to roll off coaches' tongues when asked who the favorites are to win the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division this fall, but that's more a testament to the expected quality of play within the league than it is a knock on the up-and-coming Red Raiders.
Four of the seven teams in the FVC Valley qualified for postseason play last year (Prairie Ridge, Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake South and Jacobs) and each returns plenty of talent. Prairie Ridge is ranked No. 2 in Class 6A while Cary-Grove is tied for No. 4. CL South enters the season ranked No. 8 in Class 7A.
Huntley returns 12 starters from a 4-5 team and gets an influx of talent from a junior class that won 8 games as sophomores. Will the Red Raiders demonstrate enough improvement to crack the Valley's upper echelon and qualify for the school's third playoff berth in four seasons?
"The off-season was very positive," second-year coach Matt Gehrig said. "We had very strong senior leadership and attendance in the summer program was great. We're really thinking this is a group that will give us their best. We have a lot of high-character kids with great work ethics and they are very coachable."
A key player on both sides of the ball will be swift senior James Davis (5-9, 170). He moves from wide receiver to tailback this year, where he will split the workload with junior Ethan Connor, who gained some experience late last year and will likely start. Davis, who qualified last spring for the state track meet in the 100 and 400, will also return to anchor the defensive secondary.
The fullbacks will rotate. Junior Justin Gedaly (6-2, 215) is in his second varsity season. He'll split time at the position with senior Devan Kennedy (5-9, 180), a hurdler who will also start in the defensive secondary.
Senior Jake Brock (6-1, 165) gets the nod at quarterback after learning the position last year on the JV level. He's a three-sport athlete (basketball, track) who leads by example.
Brock's protection on the offensive line includes third-year starting guard Mike Silvestri (5-11, 240) and senior Ryan Davenport (6-2, 215), who played regularly last season. Senior Jordan Hyatt (5-9, 212) moves to guard from fullback to strengthen the front.
Brock has a pair of physical receivers to throw to in senior Tyler Oslance (6-0, 165) and junior Bryce Beshorner (6-2, 185), He can also target tight end Josh Symbal (6-3, 200), who will be spelled by senior Zack Borring (6-2, 200) and junior Brandon Mabry (5-11, 200).
Symbal is a returning all-FVC Valley inside linebacker who will play alongside Hyatt. Connor and Davenport will see time at outside linebacker.
They will all roam behind run stoppers Mykle McBeth (5-11, 300), a freshman transplant from Aurora, sophomore Darren Erath (6-2, 275), Silvestri, senior Peter Bianchi (5-10, 260) and juniors Joe Tanke (5-11, 245) and Michael Velasco (6-1, 260).
Senior Frank Recchia (5-11, 160) returns at cornerback opposite Davis. They are backed by a pair of young but promising safeties in junior Tyler Schwartz (5-10, 170) and sophomore Mark Skonieczny (5-9, 185).
Asked to characterize the kind of team the 55-man unity will become this fall, Gehrig was unsure,
"I couldn't tell you," he said. "I think we have a good group here. We simply have a lot to prove and we need to go out and play to the best of our ability."