Scouting the defending Class 7A champion Batavia Bulldogs
Defending Class 7A state champion Batavia is poised to pick up where it left off.
Armed with a defense that compares to the unit that excelled in last year's playoffs and a re-imagined offense with explosive potential, the Bulldogs expect to be back in the title hunt come November.
"We are a very good high school football team with the potential to be a great one," said eighth-year Batavia coach Dennis Piron, whose teams have won 73 of 84 games and two state titles. "I think our defense is going to cause some unique problems for people."
Five starters, including four of Batavia's top five tacklers, return to a defense that allowed only 12.2 points per game against playoff opponents Glenbard North, Wheaton North, Lincoln-Way West, Benet Academy and Lake Zurich. Topping that list are future college linebackers Michael Jansey (Northwestern) and Luke Weerts (North Dakota State), both seniors. Weerts (6-foot-2, 235 pounds) led the Bulldogs with 129 total tackles, including 24 for a loss and 8.5 sacks. Jansey (6-2, 215) finished with 99 tackles, including team highs in sacks (15.5) and tackles for loss (27.5).
Linebacker Quin Urwiler, a 5-11, 185-pound junior, also returns. He counted 4 sacks among his 79 tackles last season.
Senior Nick Conger anchors the secondary. Last year, the hard-hitting safety caused 3 fumbles, notched 95 tackles, broke up 6 pass attempts and nabbed an interception.
The lone returning defensive lineman is senior Ethan Towers, who contributed 12 tackles for loss and 4 sacks among 46 tackles a year ago.
Batavia's strong defense graduated talented players like all-state defensive backs Tommy Stuttle and Michael Niemiec and lineman Mike Bautch, among others, but seniors Jack Carlson and Sam Barus each saw time in the secondary last year and Niko Fell was part of the line rotation. A newcomer expected to make an impact is sophomore end Matt Weerts (6-0, 215).
The offense is talented but largely untested at the varsity level. Two starters return: offensive linemen Evan Holden (6-2, 280) and Anthony Glisson (6-3, 240), a pair Piron said graded out consistently high last season. Senior John Bannos (5-11, 200) rotated in last year. They are joined by senior Andrew Stasell (5-9, 215) at center, and junior tackle Alex Richards (6-4, 225).
Jack Meyers replaces Riley Cooper at quarterback. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound senior saw minimal action in mop-up duty last year when he completed 7 of 10 passes for 52 yards and 2 touchdowns and rushed 14 times for 88 yards. Piron said Meyers has "come a long way quickly. I'm very impressed."
Top receiver Eric Peterson graduated, but a bevy of tall targets remain: senior tight end William Fitch (6-3, 210); junior tight ends Drew Iutzwig (6-6, 215) and Devin Cheaney (6-6, 205); and senior receiver Zach Weber (6-4, 180). Piron said he likes what he sees from senior transfer Nick Rempert, a speedy all-conference receiver from Mooseheart.
Several running backs will handle the ball ala last season. Junior Art Taylor was Batavia's third-leading rusher with 69 carries for 350 yards and 4 touchdowns, and he caught 6 passes for 68 yards and 2 scores. Sophomore Trey Urwiler could make an immediate impact, Piron said.
The Bulldogs won't have any easy games en route to another playoff push. They open with nonconference matchups against Lemont and Naperville North and open play in the rugged new DuKane Conference at home against Lake Park on Sept. 7.
"If we can navigate a really tough schedule, we can be a very, very dangerous team at the end of the year again," Piron said. "This team has an awful lot of potential to do special things."