New schools make DuPage Valley Conference tougher this year

  • Naperville Central quarterback Conor Joyce, left and Quinton Gabrielli, right, go through drills during football practice in Naperville on Monday.

      Naperville Central quarterback Conor Joyce, left and Quinton Gabrielli, right, go through drills during football practice in Naperville on Monday. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/26/2015 2:08 PM

Think the DuPage Valley Conference was tough before? Wait until you see this football season.

With the addition of the three District 204 schools -- Metea Valley, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley -- the DVC adds to its long-established reputation as one of the state's premier leagues.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Going into the DuPage Valley Conference you're going to be good enough or bad enough to win or lose every game," said Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus, whose program won eight Upstate Eight Conference titles. "You can't get away with not playing your best when you're playing a DVC opponent."

Because the DVC now boasts nine schools, conference play begins immediately with grizzly season openers featuring Naperville Central against Glenbard North, the Wheaton cross-town game, Neuqua against Metea, and Lake Park versus Waubonsie Valley.

The season starts in the frying pan and continues with eight weeks in the fire.

"The biggest impact is the week-to-week grind at every level," said Naperville North coach Sean Drendel. "The key will be the ability to prepare your team every single week."

While the field is clogged with talent, Naperville Central -- last year's DVC co-champion with Wheaton Warrenville South -- looks like an early favorite thanks to an experienced offense powered by quarterback Conor Joyce, Iowa-bound receiver Emmanuel Rugamba and three returning linemen.

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If the Redhawks can reload a defensive front seven that graduated standout linebacker Bobby McMillen and lineman Joe Schweikart, they'll challenge for a repeat DVC title and their second state championship in three years.

"People might be looking at us, but I don't know that there's a clear-cut favorite," said Redhawks coach Mike Stine. "You can't take a breath any week on the schedule. We'll find out who holds up the best."

Wheaton North enters the season with a bunch of momentum after a summer run to the Red Grange 7-on-7 championship. The Falcons return the DVC's top quarterback in junior Luke Anthony, who last season threw for 1,974 yards and 16 touchdowns.

If the Falcons make the playoffs after a year away, it'll be because of an improved defense featuring linebacker Erik Mueller and defensive back Danny Walker, both juniors, in addition to returning lineman Dan Webber, linebacker Matt Giles and defensive back Nico Gubenko.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

To grab another DVC title, Wheaton Warrenville South also will lean on its defense with linemen Solomon Jackson and Jack Bucholz, who last season combined for 13 sacks. J.J. Johnson, who rushed for 723 yards, leads the offense.

Speaking of defensive lines, no one in the DVC has a better one than Lake Park with Michigan State-bound Mike Panasiuk and younger brother Jacub Panasiuk. Linebacker Jontrell Mitchell adds to a unit that will terrorize quarterbacks as the Lancers vie for their first playoff berth since 2009.

Another team that could challenge for the DVC crown is Glenbard North, which has some of the DVC's best skill with running backs Devion Hodges and Vittorio Tricase, receiver Jace James and quarterback Shane Conway. Developing strong line play, though, is critical.

Neuqua Valley also has tremendous skill, especially in the receiving corps with Western Michigan-bound tight end Brett Borske, junior Isaiah Robertson, who recently added Wisconsin to his bag full of Big Ten offers, and Owen Piche. The Wildcats break in a new quarterback in Jack Stankoven, who replaces graduated Broc Rutter.

Waubonsie Valley graduated its entire starting defense except for linebacker Max Ihry, but returns four starting offensive linemen to its ground attack. Metea Valley, building on last season's first playoff berth, leans on an experienced defense featuring the secondary tandem of Amiri Finner and Reggie Hill.

Naperville North looks to get back to the playoffs after a rare absence last season by taking advantage of another strong defensive line with Tom Rizzi and Edi Dalazi. The Huskies are returning to the double-wing offense with running back Mikey Caldarazzo.

Like last year, the logjam of talent will prevent pretty good DVC teams from reaching the playoffs. The only question is who will emerge into the postseason and who will be on the outside looking in at the end of a grueling nine-week gauntlet.

"I don't know that there's a better conference in Illinois, especially now," said Lake Park coach Chris Roll. "No one has a nine-game schedule like us."

Dave Oberhelman contributed

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