Scouting the DuKane Conference
2021 record: 10-1
Coach: Dennis Piron
Worth noting: The Bulldogs ran away to an undefeated regular season last season and have retooled for what should be another postseason berth. Ryan Boe is back for his second season starting at quarterback. A key early in the season will be to watch how the offense comes together with most of the significant skill position contributors from last season having graduated. Drew Gerke is back as a top receiving threat and will be complemented by Luke Alwin and 6-foot-5 junior Brady Ninowski. Ryan Whitwell and Charlie Whelpley will be a 1-2 punch in the backfield. Defensively, the Bulldogs' bread-and-butter has been their linebacking corps, and Jack Sadowsky, Tyler Jansey and Brody Osborne all return. The secondary will look a bit different sans Vincie Solano and Anthony Roberts, but look for Grant Wardynski and Drake Ostrander to both ascend at cornerback.
2021 record: 6-5
Coach: Boone Thorgesen
Worth noting: It's arguable to say Geneva was the "surprise team" in the conference last season after it ended its playoff drought after six seasons. The Vikings were a relatively senior-heavy team last year at quarterback, running back and offensive line, so seeing either Nate Stempowski or Tony Chahino under center will be interesting to watch develop. The Vikings also will have an entirely new starting offensive line. Sophomore wideout Talyn Taylor is a name that has skyrocketed in recruiting circles with offers from Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. Defensively, Mason Luker will headline a retooled defensive line.
2021 record: 8-4
Coach: Ryan Wilkens
Worth noting: The Panthers have considerable talent coming back offensively, namely third-year starting quarterback Justin Bland. Damarion Elliston and Sam Palmer also are back and will be top contributors in the backfield. Up front, three offensive linemen are back in Adam Hirsig, Luke Bonnema and Kyle Faro. Defensively, junior David Petty headlines and will star for the Panthers. Zamari Robinson and Johnnie Robertson, who both played receiver last season, also will be in the defensive backfield. Linebacker and defensive line depth is still to be determined.
2021 record: 2-7
Coach: Chris Kirkpatrick
Worth noting: The Lancers return a decent portion of their starting front seven, headlined by defensive ends Tyler Michelini (6-foot-4, 240-pounds) and Kevontae Vignaude (6-foot-3, 210-pounds). Offensively, Lake Park has three offensive linemen returning, and junior wideout Chaz Orico is back after transferring back from IMG Academy in Florida. Junior Declan Fortuna is another expected dynamic playmaker. The starting quarterback competition is between junior Michael McCormick and senior Dominic Pelligrino, which is just one of many important decisions for first-year coach Chris Kirkpatrick to make.
St. Charles East
2021 record: 2-7
Coach: Nolan Possley
Worth noting: It's a season full of potential and unknowns as the Saints embark on a new era with Possley installed as head coach. Senior quarterback Lane Robinson won the starting job after a camp battle and will be complemented by Mac Paul and Trent Matejko in the backfield. Mason Tousignant is a three-year wideout and will have Blake Schuette in the passing attack with him. The Saints also have three returners on the line: Indiana recruit Austin Barrett, senior Hayden Harbison and junior Bodey McCaslin. Defensively, James Brennan could be a sleeper at nose guard, while Parker Radler will be a key leader at linebacker.
St. Charles North
2021 record: 4-5
Coach: Robert Pomazak
Worth noting: We'll wait to see what officially happens for the North Stars at starting quarterback between sophomore Ethan Plumb, who started all games last year, or senior Will Vaske. Both were rotated at times last season. Drew Surges, a two-way standout, is going to be counted on a ton, as well as John Vendl, in the backfield. Look for Anthony Taormina to be a breakout candidate at wideout. Brody Geary is poised to be a top defensive standout, but besides Surges, who emerges at linebacker after the graduation of George Litgen is going to be something to watch.
2021 record: 13-1
Coach: Joe Wardynski
Worth noting: No doubt the Falcons will look sizably different offensively than last year's state title-winning team. Replacing multiyear starters in quarterback Mark Forcucci, running back Brayton Maske, tight end Casey Morrison and receiver Seth Kortenhoeven is just the start of the laundry list. Nathaniel Stevens and Caleb Varney are returning OL starters and Kirsten Libby likely will assume No. 1 wide receiver duties. Defensively, the Falcons return two highly productive starters in star linebacker Ross Dansdill and defensive back Tyler O'Connor, but replacing nine starters from last season will be the challenge as the season gets going. Junior defensive end Joe Barna and senior defensive back Nick Morici are names to watch.
Wheaton Warrenville South
2021 record: 5-5
Coach: Sean Norris
Worth noting: The Tigers came within a few plays of an upset against Brother Rice in the opening round of the postseason last year. The Tigers graduated some notable talent: quarterback Matt Sommerdyke, wideout/defensive back Reece Young and running back Brandon Bell. James Sok and Brahm Rozanski have been battling for the starting spot at quarterback, but it hasn't been officially announced what direction that battle will go. Matthew Crider, a junior, will be a heavy contributor at running back, while 6-foot-5 Braylen Meredith should be a key weapon. Kane Martinez is a returning starter on the offensive line. Defensively, senior Charlie Butt is expected to be a top option at corner.
Five players to watch
Jack Sadowsky, Batavia, LB, sr.: The Bulldogs are stacked at linebacker and Sadowsky is still always in the middle of the action. The second-leading tackler from last season, Sadowsky, an Iowa State commit, is poised for a monster season alongside Tyler Jansey, Brody Osborne and Co.
Ross Dansdill, Wheaton North, LB, sr.: A standout in the middle of the Falcons' defense for two seasons and counting, Dansdill is certainly in the conversation among the best linebackers in the conference. A recent commit to Holy Cross, Dansdill was second among the leaders in tackles (74.5), had 12.5 tackles for loss and one interception last season.
Austin Barrett, St. Charles East, OL, sr.: Offensive linemen may not always get the spotlight, but Barrett has steadily been the Saints' top blocker the past two seasons. Barrett is a recent Indiana University verbal commit and will be counted on as a leader to get the Saints back into the postseason after a 2-7 campaign last year.
Justin Bland, Glenbard North, QB, sr.: Bland will be entering his third season starting and has considerable freedom to run the offense. The conference, at quarterback, is on the lighter side of starting experience. Bland is the elder in this case, which could be an advantage for the Panthers.
Drew Surges, St. Charles North, RB/LB, sr.: Surges is a highly productive two-way standout. Surges led the team in rushing (577 yards, 10 TDs) while also being one tackle shy of tying then-senior star George Litgen for leading in tackles last season. The North Stars will be looking for a repeat performance.
Five can't miss matchups
Week 2 -- Batavia at Lincoln-Way East, 7 p.m., Sept. 2: The respective program pedigrees speak for themselves. Just at linebacker alone: Jack Sadowsky and Tyler Jansey for the Bulldogs opposite Jake Scianna and DJ Ritter? Yes, please.
Week 3 -- Batavia at Wheaton North, 7 p.m., Sept. 9: The Bulldogs defeated the Falcons in overtime last season, but that was the spark for the Falcons' run to a Class 7A state title in 2021. Get there early for this one.
Week 7 -- Wheaton North vs. Wheaton Warrenville South, 7 p.m., Oct. 7: It's rivalry week in the conference and this one doesn't disappoint. Both teams should be firmly in the mix for the postseason by this point.
Week 7 -- Batavia vs. Geneva, 7 p.m., Oct. 7: The Bulldogs have not lost to Geneva in Dennis Piron's tenure as head coach, a streak of 11 consecutive wins. Upset alert? You never know. Regardless, this one is always packed.
Week 9 -- Batavia vs. St. Charles North, 7 p.m., Oct. 21: The Bulldogs project to be comfortably in the postseason at this point, and with a potential conference title race to wrap up, they'll want to finish strongly. The North Stars were on the doorstep of an upset last year, however.