Look for MSL East's growth spurt to continue
In the high school football world, the Mid-Suburban East has matured quite nicely recently.
Thanks in part to an agreement that limited crossover games with the MSL West to just one per season, the East Division has begun to flourish.
Last season, three of its members -- Hersey, Rolling Meadows and Buffalo Grove -- advanced to the state playoffs. It was the first time since 2013 that the conference had three teams advance. More importantly, two of those teams won first-round games, a feat that had not been accomplished since 2009.
MSL East coaches cite the decision to change from 3 East-West crossover games to just one, while adding 2 games with the Central Suburban League, as a major reason for the East's success.
"It has really helped build our program from the bottom up," said Buffalo Grove coach Jeff Vlk, who is in his third season as head coach and has spent a total of 14 years in the program. "The CSL crossovers have allowed us to play schools that are closer to our own in enrollment. It has made for more competitive games."
Vlk's Bison appear to be the team to beat in the East this season. Buffalo Grove, which had its best season in 25 years, finished 9-2 last season and lost to East St. Louis in the second round of the playoffs.
Buffalo Grove will build on a trio of three-year starters to lead them this season as the Bison pursue their first conference crown since 2002.
Northern Illinois commit Tom Trieb leads that talented group. The bruising 6-foot-2, 215-pound running back put up over 800 yards last season and also is dominant on defense.
Trieb will get huge help from quarterback Connor Adams, who is just 65 yards short of becoming Buffalo Grove's all-time passer. Linebacker Sean Jacobs, who was MSL East defensive player of the year last year, also returns to anchor a defense that will look to start 10 seniors.
"When you have a Tom Trieb on your team, you are pretty lucky," Vlk said. "And with Connor and Sean back, we feel pretty good. Plus, we have lots of other guys stepping up."
Buffalo Grove will need to get past defending conference champion Hersey, perennial conference contender Rolling Meadows and an improved Prospect team if it hopes to win the East.
Hersey was 9-2 last year and is coming off its best season in 30 years. But graduation hit the Huskies hard, especially with the loss of quarterback Owen Goldsberry, and most of this year's starters are juniors. Head coach Joe Pardun has an athletic and attacking defense, led by defensive lineman Nick Steger, that posted 3 shutouts last year.
Rolling Meadows figures to be right in the midst of the battle for the East title once again. The Mustangs, who had their string of conference titles broken last year, look to get back to the top this year. They have 65 players out for their team and will lean heavily on returning starting quarterback Arek Kleniuk, defensive end Jace O'Hara and defensive tackle Nate Pedraza.
New coach Dan DeBoeuf is turning thing around quickly at Prospect. The Knights have a solid foundation to build on with running back/linebacker Michael Shafis and quarterback Jimmy Martin, who both return this season. The Knights haven't qualified for the playoffs since 2012, but could turn that corner this season.
Wheeling is the best it can be thanks to the play of senior quarterback Michael Best. The Wildcats will play lots of seniors, but don't have much depth. There could be times when all 11 players just stay on the field after a change of possession.
Elk Grove is looking to break its 18-game losing streak. The Grenadiers will play lots of juniors including quarterback Chris Janczak. Despite the youth, it will still be an experienced group since many of those juniors, as well as a few of the seniors, saw plenty of action last season.
Predicted order of finish: Buffalo Grove, Rolling Meadows, Prospect, Hersey, Wheeling, Elk Grove