Warren has no plans to slow down this season

  • Warren football head coach Bryan McNulty gathers his players as the start of the 2019 season kicks off in Gurnee.

      Warren football head coach Bryan McNulty gathers his players as the start of the 2019 season kicks off in Gurnee. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Warren High School football player Juan De La Cruz fires off the line with his teammates as the 2019 season kicks off with the first practice.

      Warren High School football player Juan De La Cruz fires off the line with his teammates as the 2019 season kicks off with the first practice. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Warren High School football player Juan De La Cruz is pumped and filled with excitement as he greets Justin VanSchaick, linebacker coach for their first practice.

      Warren High School football player Juan De La Cruz is pumped and filled with excitement as he greets Justin VanSchaick, linebacker coach for their first practice. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Warren High School football quarterback Phil Hird warms up his arm as the 2019 season kicks off with the first practice.

      Warren High School football quarterback Phil Hird warms up his arm as the 2019 season kicks off with the first practice. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Warren High School football coach Bryan McNulty throws passes to his receivers as the 2019 season kicks off with the first practice.

      Warren High School football coach Bryan McNulty throws passes to his receivers as the 2019 season kicks off with the first practice. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Warren High School football player Willis Singleton Jr. has the face of determination as he fires up his teammates during practice as the 2019 season kicks off.

      Warren High School football player Willis Singleton Jr. has the face of determination as he fires up his teammates during practice as the 2019 season kicks off. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Warren High School football players warm up as the 2019 season kicks off with the first practice.

      Warren High School football players warm up as the 2019 season kicks off with the first practice. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Warren High School football coach Bryan McNulty gets his players pumped up as the 2019 season kicks off with the first practice.

      Warren High School football coach Bryan McNulty gets his players pumped up as the 2019 season kicks off with the first practice. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Warren High School football player Willis Singleton Jr. has the face of determination as he gets his teammates pumped as the 2019 season kicks off with the first practice.

      Warren High School football player Willis Singleton Jr. has the face of determination as he gets his teammates pumped as the 2019 season kicks off with the first practice. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/12/2019 9:41 PM

A few rain sprinkles had no chance of dampening a spirited group of Warren football players.

Not after the Blue Devils' memorable -- infamous? -- road game in Week 2 of last season. After storms necessitated trips to Carol Stream on three consecutive days to complete a nonconference game against Glenbard North, Warren emerged with its first win of the year, 19-0.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The game that never ended," Blue Devils coach Bryan McNulty joked in overcast Gurnee on Monday, as his Blue Devils participated in their first official practice of the 2019 season.

So what's a little rain, or distant rumble of thunder?

"After that three-day game," linebacker/wide receiver Juan De La Cruz said with a smile, "we got this."

Warren proved last season it could handle not only adversity, but most of its opponents on the field. Led by a defense that boasted speed and physicality, the Blue Devils allowed just 91 points in 12 games. They won 10 games, half by shutout, went undefeated in the North Suburban Conference and advanced to the Class 8A state quarterfinals.

And they don't plan on slowing down this season. Several Blue Devils ran onto the O'Plaine Campus stadium turf Monday shouting words of excitement.

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"It's the start of the most beautiful time of the year," quarterback Philip Hird said.

"For us," McNulty said of the first official day of practice, "it's just, 'Are our kids ready? Are they registered? Is everybody ready to go and locked in?' We saw by our (warmup) that these kids are locked in. They're excited to play football here."

Few Blue Devils are more vocal or energetic than senior defensive tackle Willis "J.R." Singleton, who verbally committed to Iowa State this summer. The 6-foot-2, 285-pounder will be starting his third season on varsity.

"Everyone's excited," Singleton said. "It's one step closer to the season. It's my last season with guys I've been playing with since I was a little guy. I've built a lot of great relationships with them. I just love coming to practice and seeing the smiles on their faces. That makes me go."

Last season, De La Cruz (6-3, 215) was named captain of the Daily Herald Lake County All-Area team and was also named the NSC player of the year after piling up 12 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. He has offers from Air Force, Western Illinois and Eastern Illinois. The defensive veterans also include Seamus Mellican, Malachi McNeal and safety Josh Turner. Linebacker Donville James (6-2, 215) is a transfer from Shoreland Lutheran in Wisconsin.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Hird (6-1½, 180) is back to direct the offense, which relied heavily last season on running back Martin Walker Jr. Walker averaged nearly 28 carries per game, while piling up 1,472 rushing yards and 15 TDs. Hird figures to throw more this season and hand off to running back Derrick McLaughlin (Indiana State commit). An experienced receiver group includes De La Cruz (5 TD catches last season), Christian Phillips and Connor Lange (6-4).

The offensive line includes veterans Matt Rich, Jaiden Lowery and Ethan McDermott. Kicker/punter Adam Saul is an Illinois State commit.

"We'll be on the edge probably and vertical a little bit more than we were (last year)," McNulty said. "We're a little bit more experienced at wide receiver this year. We're a little more balanced offensively."

And the Blue Devils, like probably every team throughout the state, is itching to play real games. They host Barrington on Opening Night (Aug. 30).

"It's a start to beat Barrington," De La Cruz, aware his Blue Devils lost to the Broncos 31-14 last year and 34-20 in the 2017 season opener, said of the official start of practice. "We haven't beaten them in two years, and we're looking forward to (playing them)."

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