Scouting DuPage Valley Conference football
By David Oberhelman
DuPage Valley Conference Teams: Metea Valley, Naperville Central, Naperville North, Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley.
Key games: Naperville Central vs. Naperville North, Sept. 28; Waubonsie Valley at Neuqua Valley, Sept. 28; Naperville North at Metea Valley, Oct. 5; Neuqua Valley at Naperville Central, Oct. 5; Waubonsie Valley at Naperville Central, Oct. 12; Waubonsie Valley at Metea Valley, Oct. 19.
Top players: Justin Agema, DB, Naperville Central; Jack Belskis, LB, Metea Valley; Kyle Borske, LB, Neuqua Valley; Jake Boumans, LB, Neuqua Valley; Sammy Caldarazzo, OL, Naperville North; Chris Carter, OL, Waubonsie Valley; Will Chevalier, RB, Neuqua Valley; Luke Hallstrom, OL, Naperville Central; Jack Jopes, DB, Naperville Central; Bryce Logan, RB, Waubonsie Valley; Cade McDonald, WR, Naperville Central; Conor Murphy, DL, Metea Valley; Carson O'Donnell, LB, Waubonsie Valley; Matt Oliver, LB, Naperville Central; Matt Quinn, DL, Neuqua Valley; Andrew Reinhard, LB, Naperville North; Bo Richter, LB, Naperville North; Avante Rogers, DL, Waubonsie Valley; Brandt Stare, WR, Neuqua Valley; Jared Suchevits, WR, Naperville Central; Payton Thorne, QB, Naperville Central; Ameir Wilbourn, RB, Naperville North; Julian Wlodarczyk, WR-DB, Metea Valley.
Outlook: Students and communities may like it, but playing teams twice doesn't float everyone's boat. As Metea Valley coach Ben Kleinhans said, "It's hard enough to play one time against Naperville North, we've got to do it twice." In the wake of four teams' departures to the new DuKane Conference, such is the lot of the remaining teams in the DVC, which as a five-team league needed to petition the Illinois High School Association for playoff recognition. Naperville North actually plays both Metea Valley and archrival Naperville Central twice (first meetings don't count toward conference standings), and the conference-wide effort to fill nine games created brutal nonconference matchups against other teams nobody wants to play, from Batavia to Edwardsville to Lincoln-Way East. It'll be a struggle for those six wins and a guaranteed playoff berth. Each of the DVC teams should be pretty good if not very good, and although Metea went 1-8 last season Kleinhans believes a combination of strong returning defenders and athletic skill players may have the Mustangs turning the corner. The favorite would have to be Naperville Central, which returns Western Michigan-bound quarterback Payton Thorne, a three-year varsity starter who last season passed for 2,294 yards and 24 touchdowns in a Class 8A quarterfinal season. Behind a line that includes Air Force commit Luke Hallstrom, Thorne has solid receivers back and the Redhawks defense features a secondary that could be special, led by all-conference returner Jack Jopes. Except for Thorne and Metea's Patrick Straub, who got a couple late-season starts as an injury replacement, no other potential Week 1 starting quarterback completed more passes in 2017 than Naperville North's Cliff Vickers, who had just 1. Neuqua Valley's Mark Gronowski won a tight QB competition and has quality skill around him with Brandt Stare and Will Chevalier, but the Wildcats defense may begin ahead of an offense that returns one starting lineman. Alternately, Waubonsie's 6-foot-4, 280-pound Chris Carter paces a line with experience and size -- all the better for new quarterback Jack Drow and new featured back Bryce Logan. Likewise, Naperville North's Sammy Caldarazzo heads a Huskies line with returning reps, though the squad graduated most of its offense from a 6-4 squad. Running back Ameir Wilbourn and receiver Matt Heinz hope to replace some of that yardage. Historically the DVC is a grind. This season brings a different type of grind.
Quotable: "We're going to be able to build a nice, strong, five-team conference," said Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus. "But the fact of the matter is with only five teams your nonconference games become extremely important, and we are actively looking to get the right fit to join our conference."
-- Dave Oberhelman