Lisle hopes this is its year in IEC
Wilmington has won 45 straight football games against Interstate Eight Conference Small Division opponents. The Wildcats have won nine straight IEC Small titles.
As Seneca coach Ted O'Boyle said, "I've got to pick Wilmington until they don't win it."
Is the edge getting slimmer -- particularly against Lisle and Peotone?
"I think some teams have a lot of kids returning and we do not. I think that's a big thing," said Wilmington coach Jeff Reents.
Last season Lisle was about five minutes and a handful of plays from holding off Wilmington before the Wildcats rallied to a 21-14 victory, Wilmington's closest contest until IC Catholic rocked them in the Class 3A quarterfinals.
Yes, Lisle sent star Mark McGrath to Wisconsin-Whitewater, but overall the Lions promise more offensive diversity than in 2016. Among others Lisle returns receiver-linebacker Cameron Stitt and lineman Jeff Marach, each an all-conference pick as a junior, plus McGrath's kid brother, Jay, a quarterback who drew praise from Reents himself.
"Is Wilmington on our radar? Sure they are," said Lisle coach Paul Parpet Sr. "Is Ohio State on Michigan's radar? Sure they are. But Wilmington doesn't make or break our season."
Wilmington returns 2016 all-conference selections in lineman Blake Geiss and fullback-linebacker Josh Jones, though they're joined by only one other returning starter, junior back Connor Dempsey.
"The first part of the season is going to be important to see if we can put the pieces in place," Reents said.
That's as opposed to Peotone, which Reents said returns up to 18 players from last year's team, including all-IEC Small players Ryan Brewer and Chandler Gartner.
"I see Peotone up in that area to maybe challenge 'Willy' this year," O'Boyle said. "They're really solid up front."
The Seneca coach looks to join the mix, relying on a strong senior class including 2016 all-conference picks Hunter Greve at quarterback and Mason Dooley at running back-linebacker.
New Westmont coach Dan Woulfe will face the challenge of producing the Sentinels' fifth winning season in 40 years, while Reed-Custer hopes speed can add another win or two to last season's 3-6 record.
In the Large Division, defending champion Herscher returns quality from an 11-1 team. Usual suspect Plano graduated a ton.
According to Sandwich coach Chris VanDyke, Herscher has "to be the favorite until someone beats them." Like Wilmington.