Scouting Upstate Eight Conference football
Teams: Bartlett, East Aurora, Elgin, Glenbard East, Glenbard South, Larkin, South Elgin, Streamwood, West Aurora, West Chicago.
Key games: Larkin at West Chicago, Sept. 14; West Aurora at Glenbard East, Sept. 14; Glenbard South at West Aurora, Sept. 28; Elgin at Larkin, Oct. 12; Glenbard East at Glenbard South, Oct. 12; Bartlett at South Elgin, Oct. 13; South Elgin at West Aurora, Oct. 19.
Top players: Jaxon Aubrey, QB, Larkin; Elijah Beach, DL, Streamwood; Xavier Bonds, WR-DB, Elgin; JaQuan Buchanan, RB-LB, West Aurora; Bret Bushka, QB, Glenbard East; Noah Gibson, LB, Glenbard South; Jeremy Grant, LB, West Chicago; Eric Guo, DL, Elgin; Jeremy Johnson, WR, Glenbard East; Tavion Keith, WR, Glenbard South; Spencer Konstanzer, LB, Bartlett; John Madison, OL-DL, Glenbard South; Ian Mooney, OL, West Aurora; Pat Noworol, WR-DB, South Elgin; Isai Rios, OL-DL, Larkin; Azxavier Salinas, QB-WR-DB, South Elgin; Hezekiah Salter, RB, West Aurora; Anthony Shockey, LB, Glenbard East; Jason Shuberth, LB, Bartlett; Jahari Stubbs, WR-DB, Larkin; Trevon Tittle, RB, West Aurora; Denver Warren, DL, West Aurora.
Outlook: This is an athletic director's dream. Since Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North left the UEC River Division to help inaugurate the DuKane Conference, and Glenbard South came in from the Metro Suburban, the UEC is now one group of 10 teams, no nonconference football scheduling required. Five teams have new coaches, including West Chicago's Jack Rustman, Naperville Central graduate Nick Kukuc at East Aurora and South Elgin's Dragan Teonic, who switched from Larkin to lead the defending Valley Division champion, Bartlett's Matt Erlenbaugh and Larkin's Zeus Gonzalez. . All will be looking up to prohibitive favorite West Aurora, as Blackhawks coach Nate Eimer has orchestrated one of the state's most remarkable turnarounds. Suddenly on a three-year playoff skein, from a 7-3 squad West Aurora returns eight starters on both sides of the ball, including 6-foot-3, 300-pound defensive tackle Denver Warren, a Michigan commit as a junior. We could easily cite more Blackhawks in the "Top players" list with the likes of returning all-conference quarterback Will Tammaru, a junior who passed for 1,142 yards as a sophomore. After that predictions get dicey. Usual suspect South Elgin is young, Larkin has Joliet West transfer Jaxon Aubrey at quarterback, and Glenbard South will face many of these teams for the first time. All this flux could result in Glenbard East earning only its second playoff spot and first since 1999. The Rams boast several three-year starters including quarterback Bret Bushka, linebacker Anthony Shockey and all-conference receiver Jeremy Johnson, as well as four returning starters to the offensive line.
Quotable: "We're significantly smaller in (school) population, but we wouldn't have made the move to the Upstate Eight Conference if we didn't feel we compete with the top teams," said Glenbard South coach Ryan Crissey.
-- Dave Oberhelman