Scouting the Cary-Grove Trojans
Defenses struggle to contain the intricate Cary-Grove triple-option offense in general, but that challenge becomes exponentially more difficult in years the Trojans field an experienced, senior-laden lineup.
Well, guess what?
Three-year starting lineman Addison West, a 6-foot-3, 275-pound all-state pick committed to Western Michigan, returns to clear running lanes for a backfield stocked with seasoned backs.
Cary-Grove won 7 games and nearly defeated eventual Class 6A state champion Prairie Ridge in the second round of the playoffs last season. That success was due, in part, to scoring 363 points and rushing for 3,334 yards.
The offense returns the players responsible for 282 points and 70 percent of those rushing yards (2,346): seniors Max Buss (89 carries, 465 yards, 8 touchdowns), Quinn Priester (108-589-10), Danny Daigle (51-420-4), Michael Boyd (15-187-1), Zach Perrone (35-127-4), Ben McDonald (7-111-1), Caleb Rohrbach (4-37) and juniors Blake Skol (24-154-1) and Luke Eleftheriou (6-24-1).
"We have a lot of guys back in our offensive backfield who have a lot of experience," said eighth-year coach Brad Seaburg (69-17). "We have quite a bit of speed back there and we're really thick with seniors. We're going to count on those guys to be the leaders."
The Trojans graduated fullback Max Skol, who led the offense with 910 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns in 158 attempts. However, there wasn't a drop off last year when he was injured in Week 5 against Huntley and Buss moved from linebacker to fullback to fill replace him. Against Huntley, Buss gained 87 yards on 17 carries. The following week in a 49-22 win against Dundee-Crown, he rushed 24 times for 148 yards and 4 touchdowns.
McDonald will play quarterback in the season opener against Crystal Lake South. Priester, the starting quarterback last fall, committed over a year ago to play baseball at Texas Christian. He was unavailable to practice football for a good portion of the summer while pitching in high-level baseball tournaments like the area code games in San Diego, from which he just returned last week. Priester won't have enough practices under his belt to be eligible until Week 2 at Crystal Lake Central.
McDonald filled in ably in a playoff game at St. Ignatius last October after Priester injured his thumb in the first half. McDonald threw a 46-yard pass to set up a score and later ran for a 79-yard touchdown.
"He understands the offense very well and he is a big running back at 6-1 and 190 pounds," Seaburg said. "He can run between the tackles but he can also run on the perimeter real well. He locates the ball very well and he knows how to put the ball in spots we want him to put it."
West is a powerful lineman who runs well when the Trojans pitch to the perimeter. He is joined on the line by returning senior Jason Petko (6-2, 220) and junior Evan Hissong (5-11, 240), who started the season finale against Prairie Ridge.
The defense is now coordinated by Matt Furlong. He takes over for successful, longtime defensive coordinator Don Sutherland, who also stepped down as the school's baseball coach over the summer.
Joining the staff as defensive backs coach is Rick Splitt. He coached Palatine for four seasons to a 34-12 record. Splitt stepped down after the 2016 season so he could watch his children play high school football. Sons Nathan and Jason are among 13 sophomores listed on the 57-man Cary-Grove varsity roster.
Returning on defense are safeties Daigle (37 tackles, Int) and Boyd (18 tackles) and linebackers Buss (20 tackles) and Blake Skol (67.5 tackles, 2 Int). Senior Jake DiMatteo (6-1, 210) will start on the defensive line alongside West, who pulls double duty.
"That's a two-way guy we really are going to need a lot out of this year," Seaburg said of West. "We expect him to be a difference maker on defense, too."