Tough North Suburban just keeps getting tougher

 
 
Updated 8/23/2018 7:42 PM
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  • Lake Zurich linebacker Luke Dwyer, left, is among the college-bound seniors helping keep the North Suburban Conference among Illinois' elite football leagues.

      Lake Zurich linebacker Luke Dwyer, left, is among the college-bound seniors helping keep the North Suburban Conference among Illinois' elite football leagues. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

It's getting tougher and tougher to win football games in the North Suburban Conference.

It's been one of the toughest conferences in the Chicagoland area for the last 15 years; but it has become even more of a ruthless meat grinder for its members over the last five years.

Since 2013, the North Suburban Conference has sent a representative to the state championship game four times, with the only miss coming in 2016.

Lake Zurich went to the Class 7A state title game in 2013 and again last season while Stevenson won the Class 8A state championship in 2014 and Libertyville was in the Class 7A state title game in 2015.

Lake Zurich, Libertyville and Stevenson have combined to make all of the NSC's trips to the state title game since 2002, which totals 10 trips in 16 years. Lake Zurich leads the way with five trips, including a state title in 2007, Libertyville has made three trips, including a state title in 2004 and Stevenson has made 2 trips, including its 2014 state title run.

This year, all three teams have an eye on yet another trip to the state championship game. And Warren and Lake Forest, as usual, are legitimate contenders as well.

All five of those teams earned playoff berths last season, accounting for more than 60 percent of the conference in the postseason.

"It's hard to differentiate yourself in this conference, because it is just so tough with so many good teams," Warren coach Bryan McNulty said. "When I was in high school, I played in the DuPage Valley Conference and that was the premier conference back then. I think the North Suburban is like that now. So many tough teams and pretty much every school in our conference has some kind of Division I kid."

Defending conference champion Lake Zurich (13-1 overall and 7-0 in the NSC in 2017) is again the team to beat and certainly has a big-name Division I kid. Linebacker Luke Dwyer, who will be playing at FCS perennial power North Dakota State next year, leads a defense that gave up a league-low 9.9 points per game in 2017.

At Stevenson, linebacker Maema Njongmeta is back after a breakout season in 2017. In just his second year ever of playing football, Njongmeta recorded 11 quarterback sacks. He has more than 10 Division I offers.

Willis Singleton Jr., a junior lineman at Warren, already has interest from multiple Division I schools.

And the recruiting process for Lake Forest junior defensive end Rylie Mills has been intense to say the least. He's got big-time programs like Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Georgia and a handful of Big Ten teams after him.

Even the teams that may not have many college recruits and have typically placed in the bottom half of the conference can be thorns. Zion-Benton, which went 4-5 last year, got a Week 8 win over Warren, a team that went to the second round of the playoffs last year.

And Mundelein continues to significantly improve its program under fourth-year head coach Larry Calhoun.

"This conference is just so tough," Stevenson coach Josh Hjorth said. "We lost two conference games last year, but they were to Lake Zurich and Warren. Those are two really tough teams. Playoff teams. Our kids want to win conference every year. That's important to them."

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