By Kevin Schmit
Fourteen points. That's all that came between Naperville Central's football team and an 8-1 record.
Losing four games by the most meager of margins cost the Redhawks a playoff berth for only the second time in 19 years. Motivation to win the close games this season was not hard to find in the off-season.
"This is the best off-season we've had in the 25 years I've been at Central," said Redhawks coach Mike Stine. "I like this team a lot. They've done everything we've asked of them since November."
Of the nine returning starters, two on offense give the Redhawks extra reason to be optimistic: quarterback Ian Lewandowski, the team's leading receiver last season, and all-DuPage Valley Conference running back Matt Randolph, who rushed for 902 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Two offensive linemen also return in Sean Goldner and 6-foot-3, 290-pound Mike Keller. Even though Randolph is the leading returning receiver as well, Stine has confidence the offense won't put too much pressure on the ground game. Junior Blake Butler, a transfer from St. Ignatius, is a receiver to watch.
"Teams are going to try and put nine guys in the box, but we're going to try and spread the field," Stine said. "Our receivers are pretty capable. Ian's not a pretty quarterback, but he's a winner and makes plays. Randolph is just a hard-nosed, old-fashioned football player."
Linebacker John Dulleck and defensive linemen Zach Borta and Rob Girgis return in addition to defensive backs Pat Clark and Ross Murphy. Cody Campbell, a transfer from Michigan, bolsters the defensive line.
After playing six playoff teams last season, the Redhawks will gear up for another tough slate of games. This year, though, they plan on reversing some of the results.
"We feel like we're going to be a good team, but are we up to the challenge to be a great team?" Stine asked. "This team has some pretty high expectations. After last season they feel like they have a lot to prove."
Coach: Mike Stine (sixth year, 32-20).
2010 record: 4-5, 3-4, fifth in DuPage Valley Conference.
Top players: Ian Lewandowski (QB, 6-0, 205, sr.); Matt Randolph (RB, 6-1, 215, sr.); Zach Borta (DL, 6-1, 225, sr.); John Dulleck (LB, 6-2, 220, sr.); Mike Keller (OL, 6-2, 285, sr.); Sean Goldner (OL, 6-0, 215, sr.); Rob Girgis (DL, 6-2, 235, sr.); Pat Clark (DB, 6-1, 175, sr.); Ross Murphy (DB, 5-11, 170, sr.); Blake Butler (WR, 6-2, 170, jr.); Cody Campbell (DL, 6-3, 195, jr.); Jimmy Nashert (WR-DB, 6-2, 175, jr.); Ryan Berg (LB, 6-1, 195, jr.).
Fri, Aug 26 Waubonsie Valley 7:30 p.m.
Fri, Sep 2 Neuqua Valley 7:30 p.m.
Fri, Sep 9 Glenbard East 7:30 p.m.
Fri, Sep 16 @ West Aurora 7:30 p.m.
Fri, Sep 23 @ WW South 7:30 p.m.
Fri, Sep 30 Glenbard North 7:30 p.m.
Fri, Oct 7 @ Wheaton North 7:30 p.m.
Fri, Oct 14 @ Naperville North 7:30 p.m.
Fri, Oct 21 West Chicago 7:30 p.m.