This year's line on the FVC? Take your pick
2017 was the year of the quarterback in the Fox Valley Conference.
Led by dynamic option quarterback Samson Evans, Prairie Ridge parlayed a second straight unbeaten FVC title into a repeat Class 6A state championship.
Class 8A all-state quarterback Eric Mooney helped Huntley (8-2, 7-1) finish second. The Red Raiders dropped the head-to-head matchup against Prairie Ridge 51-43 in Week 2.
With Evans now playing at Iowa and Mooney at Northern Iowa, the FVC's star power has shifted to the trenches.
The top recruit in Illinois, according to Rivals.com, is offensive lineman Trevor Keegan of Crystal Lake South. The 6-foot-6, 305-pound senior lineman is considering offers from NCAA runner-up Georgia, Clemson, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.
"He's a great leader, a great guy and he works hard," Crystal Lake South coach Rob Fontana said. "He makes sure all the guys around him know what he's doing and what they're doing. He really gives you that senior leadership that you're looking for."
Keegan isn't the only FVC big man with a big future. Cary-Grove boasts 6-foot-3, 275-pound senior lineman Addison West, a third-year starter committed to Western Michigan. Jacobs tackle Joey Price (6-8, 315) is considering offers from Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota, Iowa State and West Virginia. Keegan's junior teammate Dom Collado (6-4, 300) holds offers from Central Michigan and South Dakota State with more expected.
"It looks like lineman is the hot commodity in our league now," Jacobs coach Bill Mitz said.
The graduations of some record-setting FVC skill-position players could affect the balance of power.
"Everybody's got people they've lost," Huntley coach Matt Zimolzak said. "It's a matter of who they have to take their place."
Prairie Ridge has won 16 straight FVC games since the league contracted to nine schools two years ago. All-conference senior fullback Jackson Willis is among a handful of returning starters between the offense and defense.
Senior Chris Raffin is the new quarterback at Huntley. He inherits an all-FVC receiver in senior Michael Boland. Other key Red Raiders are two-way lineman Alex Pitrone and third-year linebacker Michael Talesky.
Cary-Grove (7-4, 6-2) is among the FVC's most experienced teams with up to 15 seniors projected to start. The Trojans finished third in the league last season with regular-season losses to Prairie Ridge and Huntley. Both games went down to the wire.
Cary-Grove returns the ball carriers responsible for 70 percent of last season's 3,334 rushing yards. Do returning seniors like Max Buss, Quinn Priester, Ben McDonald, Danny Daigle, and Michael Boyd give the Trojans a leg up?
"I think if in the last two years you were to ask coaches who was the team to beat, they would've said Prairie Ridge just because they had so much talent and were returning a lot of guys each year," Seaburg said. "And Huntley would've been right behind them in the same conversation.
"This year, take your pick. There are a lot of really good teams in the conference and I think there's a lot of parity. Each week it's going to be a battle. I'd like to think that we're right up there too with some of the other teams in the conference, but we will have to see."
"I think Cary Grove is the team you've got to get. No knock against anybody else," Mitz said.
Jacobs (6-4, 5-3) gets its crack at Cary-Grove in Week 7. The Golden Eagles return 28 seniors and nine starters from a fourth-place team that outscored opponents 327-201. The Eagles are led by three-year starters Aidan Sproule at linebacker, guard Nick Zonta and defensive end Cade Portell. All-FVC fullback Stephen Kavanaugh returns along with senior quarterback Anthony Wilson.
Crystal Lake South (3-6, 2-6) could be a team on the rise. The Gators return seven offensive starters including Keegan and Collado and three key defenders.
The Gators opened last season 0-4. They can't afford another slow start with road games at Cary-Grove and DeKalb. The Barbs finished 8-3 last year and won a playoff game against Montini.
Jack Munn, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior linebacker, returns to lead Crystal Lake Central (5-5, 4-4), which finished fifth in the league last year and made its first playoff appearances since 2014.
McHenry is an unknown quantity. The Warriors are now coached by former offensive coordinator Jon Niemiec. He took over in June following the resignation of former coach Nat Zunkel.
Hampshire (1-8, 1-7) and Dundee-Crown (1-8, 0-8) finished eighth and ninth in the FVC last season, respectively, but each has reason for optimism.
First-year Hampshire coach Jake Brosman believes his Whip-Purs can begin to close the gap. Decimated by injuries and illness, Hampshire was outscored last year 375-134. The new coach from Dunlap, Ill., sees a shifting FVC as a plus for his program.
"As a new guy coming into the conference, it's a good year to come in because almost everybody is refilling their team," Brosman said. "It's a good year to come in and compete with some great teams."
Dundee-Crown (1-8, 0-8) returns starters at more positions than any team in the league, though it did not experience much success year ago. The Chargers return nine starters on offense, led by all-FVC quarterback Josh Raby, a 6-foot-5 senior entering his third varsity season. He is backed by talented senior running back Ricky Ibarra. Eight starters return from a defense that allowed 401 points.
"Defensively, we took our licks last year," D-C coach Mike Steinhaus said. "I think we're going to be better for it this year. We have some guys that are just unbelievable workers and it showed a lot this summer."