Going young continues to benefit IC Catholic Prep
Once football playoffs arrive teams promote select, deserving underclassmen to the varsity to help in practice.
IC Catholic Prep (9-0) is ahead of the curve. Due to smaller overall roster size and program philosophy, as in seasons past all 72 Knights practice together daily and have since Day 1, freshmen through seniors.
"It's been good for us," said ICCP coach Bill Krefft.
A 47-3 record over the past four seasons, consecutive Class 3A titles and now a No. 1 seed in Class 4A bears that out.
Based on opportunity and performance on scout team or in live scrimmages, regardless of class standing the best player at a position can earn a start. It keeps players engaged while perpetuating the program.
"I think there's an art to that process," Krefft said. "You don't want to throw young kids into the fire too early, but you don't want to let them get too comfortable, either."
Current senior linemen Ricky Mysliwiec and Ryan Kenneally each played in 10 games as freshmen for ICCP's 2015 semifinal team. Linebacker Kemon Reese, bound for an all-state nod this season before injury knocked him out, made 101 tackles as a freshman nose tackle.
This season freshman Connor McCoy has played in six games at linebacker, sophomore Jaylen Frazier in seven. Freshman Deontae Oatman works into a secondary rotation where sophomores Jalen Bates and Chauncey Lee are staples, Lee with 3 interceptions. Sophomore Will Cooke has run for 102 yards and has made 14 tackles at linebacker. Sophomore defensive lineman Julian Vega has played in eight varsity games.
Each position -- including quarterback, where sophomore Jaylen Lomeli completed 5 of 6 passes with a touchdown against St. Edward -- is open to playing time. Aided by big leads that allow game reps, the list goes on and on.
"That's something I just think is a natural progression of our system. Our younger kids, when they see that time, they try to own a spot," Krefft said.
If you follow special teams at all in Illinois high school football, then you know Wheaton Warrenville South junior kicker Jack Olsen.
All he's done this season is make 17 field goals, including a state-record eight in the season opener and the game-winning 41-yarder in last week's win over St. Charles North.
Olsen, though, isn't the only reason why WW South's special teams are ... well ... special.
"We knew we'd be building this team around defense and special teams," said Tigers coach Ron Muhitch. "I don't think we'd be where we are without our special teams."
Olsen averages 38.2 yards a punt and has 33 touchbacks on kickoffs. The Tigers' coverage teams have allowed 2.8 yards per punt return and 18.3 yards per kick return. On the other side, Joe Ives, also the team's holder, averages 9.3 yards on punt returns, and Cedric Rowzee averages 28.6 yards on kick returns.
The ability to flip the field on special teams has been crucial for WW South (8-1), which is in the playoffs for the first time since 2014 after posting three straight 2-7 seasons. The Tigers play host to Belleville West in an opening-round Class 7A game at 6 p.m. Friday.
"When you have Olsen and all those other factors, special teams are huge," Muhitch said. "We've had a lot of guys pitching in."
Rising to the top:
Waubonsie Valley's three-year varsity players -- defensive lineman Alex Lemmons and kicker-punter Cross Holmes -- may not have suffered through a 1-8 sophomore season. A lot of their senior classmates have, though, and they have come through with a 6-3 season that propelled Waubonsie into the Class 8A playoffs.
"Our whole thing is our seniors have had to be leaders this year and they've stepped up and done a nice job," said coach Paul Murphy, who leads the No. 22-seeded Warriors to No. 11 Bolingbrook on Friday.
Waubonsie's senior class went 1-8 as both freshmen and sophomores and missed the playoffs last season at 4-5. Those who saw it through include senior starters Julian Cain, Chris Carter, Harper Cole, Kusai Contractor, Jack Drow, Jake Forrest, Brandon Guido, Cole LaPlant, Ryan Lemoine, Carson O'Donnell and Dre'Von Turner.
This year's record came against the most challenging schedule Murphy said he's faced in his 14 years at Waubonsie Valley.
"It just shows you what hard work, dedication and perseverance will get you," he said. "In the long run it'll help you have success at the end of your four years in high school."
What are the chances? Pretty good as it turns out.
For the second straight season Benet and Maine West are meeting in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs. Last season the Redwings won at home 35-13 in their first step toward a second straight semifinal appearance.
It's a different situation this season. Benet (6-3) is the 21st seed and must travel to Des Plaines to play the No. 12 Warriors (8-1).
"We were surprised because we thought it might go a couple of different ways," said Benet coach Pat New. "I think they look bigger and faster than last year."
After surviving the rigors of the East Suburban Catholic Conference, falling to Notre Dame, Nazareth and Marist, Benet will be ready for anything as it tries to start another deep playoff run. Maine West has an explosive offense that's scored at least 40 points five times, but the Warriors haven't played a schedule as tough as the Redwings'.
"It's kind of nice because we're familiar with them," New said. "They obviously have some different personnel, but they're improved from last year. It should be interesting."
Powerhouse playoff opponents are nothing new to Hinsdale South.
The Hornets face another one in the opening round of the Class 6A playoffs: two-time defending state champion Prairie Ridge.
This isn't the same Wolves team as the past two years, not without graduated all-state quarterback Samson Evans. But Prairie Ridge (7-2) still enters the postseason as the fifth seed in the northern bracket with losses to Huntley and unbeaten Cary-Grove.
"They've won state titles for a reason," said Hornets coach Mike Barry. "They're still a very good team."
It'll be a familiar underdog role for the 12th-seeded Hornets (6-3), who last season upset top-seeded Crete-Monee in the first round of the 6A playoffs. In 2015 Hinsdale South, as a No. 13 seed, beat the fourth, fifth and top seeds en route to the semifinals.
The Hornets followed a similar path the season before as a 10th seed, beating the No. 7 and No. 2 seeds.
"Being an underdog has become part of our tradition and our motivation," Barry said. "Our kids have found a way to step up and get the job done."
Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1
Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_schmit