Scouting the Neuqua Valley Wildcats
Having made the playoffs 13 times in 19 prior football seasons, in 2017 Neuqua Valley stayed home.
That helps define this season.
"We're hungry to get back to the playoffs," said coach Bill Ellinghaus, noting a large number of motivated returners had hit the weight room and came out stronger than ever.
That'll help on defense where top players return. It'll also help an untested offensive line that returns one starter, big left tackle, Jake Bruner.
Three-year starters Matt Quinn and Kyle Borske -- defensive end and middle linebacker, respectively, Borske shifting from nose guard -- plus returning linebacker Jacob Boumans anchor the defense.
The 3-5 set also returns others such as cornerback Jake Karaba, linebacker Ben Musielewicz, defensive end Grant Pashkowsky and cornerback Patrick Hoffman, up last year as a sophomore with receiver Sean Larkin.
A deep defense was ahead of the offense in preseason, no surprise to Ellinghaus. After a summerlong competition for the quarterback spot, 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior Mark Gronowski emerged as the Wildcats' starter.
Some skill-position players return. Receiver Brandt Stare caught 17 passes for 237 yards, 2 touchdowns last season. He will deliver more.
Neuqua wondered whether back Will Chevalier would return, being a rugby All-America and all. "Chevy" will, a rushing, receiving and return triple-threat who averaged a team-high 119.8 all-purpose yards in 2017.
Leading opponents in nearly every statistical category last season and still missing the playoffs, a key is simply executing for 48 minutes.
"We've got to eliminate the mental lapses," Ellinghaus said, "and if we can eliminate the mental mistakes this year we'll be in good shape."
One to watch: Week 7, Naperville Central, may decide the DuPage Valley Conference.
Coach: Bill Ellinghaus (seventh year, 48-17).
2017 record: 5-4, 4-4, tied for fifth in the DuPage Valley Conference.
Top players: Justin Blazek (TE-DL, 6-4, 225, sr.), Kyle Borske (OL-LB-DL, 6-2, 235, sr.), Jake Boumans (LB, 5-10, 170, sr.), Jake Bruner (OL, 6-6, 305, sr.), Will Chevalier (RB, 5-8, 165, sr.), Rudy Dedeaux (DB, 5-10, 190, sr.), Patrick Hoffman (WR-DB, 6-1, 185, jr.), Jake Karaba (DB, 6-0, 180, sr.), Ben Musielewicz (LB, 6-0, 190, sr.), Matt Quinn (DL, 6-4, 235, sr.), Brandt Stare (WR 5-10, 165, sr.)
-- Dave Oberhelman
Fri, 8/24, Glenbard North at Neuqua Valley, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 8/31, Stevenson at Neuqua Valley, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/7, Neuqua Valley at Waubonsie Valley, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 9/14, Neuqua Valley at Normal Community, 7 p.m.
Fri, 9/21, Neuqua Valley at Jacobs, 7 p.m.
Fri, 9/28, Waubonsie Valley at Neuqua Valley, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/5, Neuqua Valley at Naperville Central, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/12, Metea Valley at Neuqua Valley, 7:30 p.m.
Fri, 10/19, Naperville North at Neuqua Valley, 7:30 p.m.