Scouting the Batavia Bulldogs
Batavia is loaded and primed for another title run.
And the Bulldogs -- state champs in 2013 and 2017 and Class 7A semifinalists in 2018 -- don't shy away from the title talk.
To the contrary, the defending DuKane Conference champs embrace it.
"We have a good team, a team that has earned the right through hard work and effort to talk about being state champions," two-time title-winning coach Dennis Piron said. "It's not a pipe dream or an embarrassment to discuss it. That's just where they're at right now."
An offense that set a program record for rushing yards last season with 3,376 returns its top two running backs: Third-year varsity performers Art Taylor and Quinn Urwiler.
Taylor was the team's leading rusher in 2018 with 1,155 yards and 10 touchdowns on 167 carries (6.9-yard avg.). Urwiler, a freakishly athletic two-way player committed to North Dakota, carried 129 times for 947 yards (7.3 avg) and scored a team-high 19 touchdowns.
"I can't believer they're even on our football team because it feels like they've been here forever," Piron said. "They were both part of our 2017 championship team. We'll be handing the ball off to two of the best running backs in the state of Illinois."
Junior Trey Urwiler, who last season rushed for 420 yards on 73 carries, has moved to wide receiver full time. Last season he made 12 receptions for 289 yards and 4 touchdowns. How well has he adjusted to receiver? Piron said "he has looked as good as any we have ever coached this summer."
The starting quarterback will one of two juniors: Kyle Oroni (6-1, 160) or Vinny Meschi (6-1, 180), the latter a transfer from Neuqua Valley.
The offensive line is young but sizable. The lone returning starter is senior tackle Alex Richards (6-4, 225). Among those joining him are juniors John Smith (6-4, 280), Jackson Heeringa (6-8, 270), and Breyden Ford (6-1, 330).
The offense returns twin tower tight ends Drew Iutzwig (6-7, 225) and Devin Cheaney (6-8, 190), both multisport athletes. Iutzwig suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 1 against Lemont last season but returned from surgery in time to pitch for the Batavia baseball team last spring. Both are valuable blockers with good hands.
The defense boasts difference-makers at multiple positions. The secondary is anchored by returning safeties Sam Barus and Jackson Williams. Barus led the Bulldogs in tackles last season with 8.1 per game and registered 15 tackles for loss, including 7 sacks. Williams led the team with 4 interceptions, broke up 8 passes, recovered 3 fumbles and caused another.
Piron said returning senior cornerback Brandon Vines "has upped his game, especially in the last couple of weeks." Last fall Vines defended 7 passes and grabbed an interception.
Junior Matt Weerts moves from the defensive line to linebacker in his second varsity season. As a sophomore he recorded 51 total tackles and his 12 tackles for loss included 7 sacks. He will play alongside outside linebacker Quinn Urwiler, whose 79 total tackles (61 solo) included 19.5 behind the line of scrimmage. Senior Cam Jones (6-2, 210) rotated in last season.
The defensive line return welcomes Ford and fellow junior Eric Sartain (6-2, 240).
It is a collection of talent that has a staff of veteran coaches licking their chops to get started.
"Our safeties are really special players, our running back situation is top notch, our tight end situation is as good as you can have, our O-line is young but big and our D-line is fast and aggressive," Piron said. "We're excited."