Wheaton North's O-line paving the way for big things

  • Wheaton North's Brayton Maske (23) ran for 210 yards and 3 touchdowns last week in a 35-3 win over St. Charles North.

    Wheaton North's Brayton Maske (23) ran for 210 yards and 3 touchdowns last week in a 35-3 win over St. Charles North. Sandy Bressner/sbressner@shawmedia.com

By Gregg Voss
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 9/21/2021 12:34 PM

It's unusual for an entire unit to be named a football team's most valuable player, but hey, if you've earned it, you've earned it.

That's what Wheaton North did last Friday after manhandling St. Charles North 35-3, a game that saw senior running back Brayton Maske rush for 210 yards and three touchdowns.


The MVP choice was simple, according to coach Joel Wardynski -- the offensive line.

"All five of them had a really solid game, and each week we've seen them improve, and I think they like playing together," Wardynski said.

The Wheaton North (3-1, 1-1) offensive line is made up of three seniors -- center Sam Howser, right guard Adrian Hible and right tackle Greg Fotinopoulos -- along with junior left guard Caleb Varney and junior left tackle Nathaniel Stevens.

Though three starters returned from the abbreviated spring season, the formation of the offensive line really started with Howser, who got moved from fullback to center.

"Once we did that, that solidified our group," Wardynski said. "It gave us a little more depth."

Howser had been a fullback since Pop Warner football, but in the off-season gained more muscle and weight, which predicated his shift to center. He's enjoying himself.

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"I've always been a guy where I get the most playing time, that's where (I want to be)," he said. "Now I have to read lines and linebackers. I think I'm enjoying the line more than fullback, surprisingly."

Fotinopoulos said a heartbreaking 23-20 Week 3 loss to Batavia was a watershed moment for the offensive line. The improvement was apparent in the following week, before the St. Charles North game, because there was more urgency in practice.

Howser agreed.

"Batavia, I thought our line played a little a little sloppy and had some mental errors," he said. "We outplayed ourselves."

Defensive changes key for Wheaton Academy:

Another team that has leveraged defensive changes into success has been Wheaton Academy (3-1, 2-0), which beat Bishop McNamara 34-14 Friday in a game that, like most of the rest of the county schools, was delayed by lightning.


Talented senior quarterback David Dorn is a three-year starter but has made a name for himself as a free safety this season under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Justin Swider and his dad, former longtime Wheaton College coach Mike Swider.

"We started working him in at safety last spring, just to give him an understanding of the game, and he's completely bought in," Justin Swider said of Dorn. "He's making tackles on defense, running the ball on offense, getting those extra yards. It's just toughness."

Dorn, like Howser over at Wheaton North, is having a good time on defense, noting that he hadn't played on that side of the ball since youth football, and in 7-on-7 competition.

Senior Peter Johanik, coach Jim Johanik's son, plays center and was an all-state honorable mention at defensive tackle a year ago. He's shifted to middle linebacker this season.

"Obviously, I'm not perfect at it, but I've had the opportunity to make some good plays, and that's the result of our expert coaching," Johanik said. "Both coach Justin Swider and Mike Swider have done an exceptional job of teaching me everything I need to know. In reality, it's a huge position shift."

Strange scheduling for St. Francis:

St. Francis stands at 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the Metro Suburban Red, but has had gotten zero help from its schedule.

After losing to Lake Forest in Week 1, Chicago Juarez was next on the schedule, but folded its program. St. Francis found this out the Tuesday of that week and thus had to scramble to schedule Peoria, a team the Spartans beat 51-21. Not bad for only two days of practice.

The next week was St. Edward, but Green Wave COVID-19 issues derailed that contest. So St. Francis was lucky to schedule Prospect, a 7A school it beat 34-27. But once again, there were only two days of preparation for the Knights.

Last week, Chicago Christian forfeited, again due to COVID-19 issues.

"It definitely was really hard thinking we're playing one team, and finding out Tuesday we're playing a completely different one," said 6-foot-3, 275-pound center and defensive tackle T.J. McMillen, who has 10 Division I collegiate offers. "It changes our whole focus."

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