Scouting the Fox Valley Conference
Teams: Burlington Central, Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South, Dundee-Crown, Hampshire, Huntley, Jacobs, McHenry, Prairie Ridge
Key games: Cary-Grove at Crystal Lake South, Aug. 30; Prairie Ridge at Huntley, Sept. 13; Crystal Lake South at Crystal Lake Central, Sept. 13; Jacobs at Dundee-Crown, Sept. 13; Huntley at Cary-Grove, Sept. 20; Hampshire at Burlington Central, Oct. 4; Cary-Grove at Jacobs, Oct. 11; Prairie Ridge at Cary-Grove, Oct. 18.
Top players: Anthony Angeles, McHenry, WR-DB; Cole Bhardwaj, Jacobs, QB; Matt Burba, Huntley, DL; Nasir Canty, Jacobs, RB-LB; Dom Collado, Crystal Lake South, OL; Josh Crandall, Prairie Ridge, DL; Aidan Ellinger, Crystal Lake Central, QB; Carter Evans, Prairie Ridge, FB; Anthony Fakhoury, Dundee-Crown, OL-LB; Ian Gorken, Crystal Lake South, QB; Drew Jenkins, Crystal Lake Central, WR-DB; Jake Johnson, Cary-Grove, LB; Ryder Havens, Huntley, RB; Evan Hissong, Cary-Grove, OL; Rukkus Hunkins, Huntley, LB; Jake Lenschow, Burlington Central, QB-WR-LB; Matt Loucks, Prairie Ridge, LB; Connor Lydon, Prairie Ridge, QB; Trevor Masten, Huntley, OL; Jackson Milison, Hampshire, QB-DB; Jacob Mobeck, Jacobs, RB; Matt Muetterties, Burlington Central, OL-DL; Justin Prusko, Dundee-Crown, TE; Jake Rambo, Hampshire, OL-DL; Kevin Sandoval, McHenry, TE-DL-P; Blake Skol, Cary-Grove, FB-S; Riley Smith, Prairie Ridge, OL; George Trojanek, Jacobs, OL-DL; Brad Walker, Huntley, DL; Paul Zunkel, McHenry, LB.
Outlook: Adding Burlington Central swells Fox Valley Conference membership to 10 schools, making it a closed conference with no nonconference games. The Rockets join a league that has produced a Class 6A champion three years in a row. Cary-Grove won the state title last season on the heels of consecutive Prairie Ridge state crowns in 2016 and 2017. Those two teams along with Huntley seem likeliest to contend for the title again. The "big three" have finished in the top three spots in the league race since the FVC abandoned a two-division format in 2016. Prairie Ridge returns 16 starters evenly split between defense and offense. Quarterback Connor Lydon is back. He directed the triple option offense to 39.8 points per game as a junior. Last year the Wolves scored 57 or more points in 4 of 9 regular-season games. Carter Evans, who has offers from two MAC schools including NIU, moves from tight end to fullback. Huntley's team strength is defense, led by all-FVC linemen Matt Burba and Brad Walker and linebacker Rukkus Hunkins. Junior Ryder Havens last season rushed for 928 yards and 11 touchdowns and will follow a big line that features Minnesota State-bound senior Trevor Masten (6-foot-5, 300 pounds). Cary-Grove boasts linebacker Jake Johnson, the defensive MVP of the state championship team. The offense returns three starters: lineman Evan Hissong, tight end Nathan Desmet and fullback Blake Skol. Last season Skol rushed for 1,460 yards and 21 touchdowns in 14 games. Crystal Lake South offensive lineman Dom Collado is committed to Miami of Ohio. He blocks for athletic third-year quarterback Ian Gorken. Last fall Gorken completed 67.5% of his passing attempts for 1,350 yards and 14 touchdowns and carried 95 times for 622 yards and 6 scores. He helped lead the Gators to their first playoff victory in six years. Hard-luck Jacobs lost five key players to year-ending injuries by midseason, finished 3-6 and missed the playoffs for the second time in coach Bill Mitz's nine campaigns at the Algonquin school. Returning quarterback Cole Bhardwaj stepped in for the last few games and gained some valuable experience. Returning senior defensive end George Trojanek will also play center. Dundee-Crown won 4 games for the first time since a 2013 playoff appearance but came up short of playoff qualification. The Chargers return 6-6 tight end Justin Prusko (Southeast Missouri State) and left guard/linebacker Anthony Fakhoury, one of three returning offensive linemen. Speedy junior running backs Amarie Jones and Shanquan Watson could provide sparks. Crystal Lake Central quarterback Aidan Ellinger passed for 2,700-plus yards a year ago. Multiple FVC coaches said they expect McHenry to be improved. The Warriors return 6-3 tight end Kevin Sandoval. Hampshire has a small senior group (11) but overall participation numbers in the program have risen to 105. Many juniors started or saw significant playing time as sophomores during a winless season. Three-year starting lineman Jake Rambo returns to play both ways. Burlington Central enters FVC play led by Western Illinois-committed lineman Matt Muetterties (6-5, 265) and versatile three-sport athlete Jake Lenschow.
Quotable: Prairie Ridge coach Chris Schremp this week said of fullback Carter Evans: "Our defense is getting sick of tackling him. We have to tone him down in practice because he's running people over."