Scouting the Warren Blue Devils
When Warren's football team defeated Glenbard North 19-0 in a Week-2 game that took three days to complete due to violent weather, the Blue Devils, little did they know, were just starting getting started.
They followed by blanking Waukegan 49-0 and Libertyville 35-0. After a 24-10 win over Lake Forest in Week 5, Warren shut out Zion-Benton 33-0 and two weeks later celebrated a 21-0 victory over Stevenson for its fifth shutout.
Counting a 20-0 loss to Brother Rice in the Class 8A state quarterfinals, the Blue Devils allowed only 91 points all season in going 10-2.
They won the North Suburban Conference championship with a 7-0 record.
"We didn't know we were going to be that good last year, defensively," said coach Bryan McNulty, who's 34-19 in five seasons at Warren. "We didn't show it all the time early, but it sort of took on a life of its own."
The Blue Devils should boast another stingy defense this season. They are led by Iowa State-bound defensive tackle Willis Singleton (6-2, 285), senior outside linebacker Juan De La Cruz, senior defensive lineman Seamus Mellican, junior linebacker Malachi McNeal and senior safety Josh Turner. Singleton, Mellican and Turner all started as sophomores. McNeal was a starter last season as a sophomore.
Singleton, De La Cruz, Turner and Mellican (honorable mention) were all all-conference selections last year.
"What we did last year was obviously good, but this year we have a new plan, which is to win a state championship," De La Cruz said. "We also want to be a better defense than last year."
De La Cruz (6-3, 215) was the captain of the Daily Herald Lake County All-Area team last year after piling up 12 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. He broke his clavicle sophomore year, causing him to miss nearly the entire season.
"Juan is Mr. Consistent," McNulty said. "He runs our defense. He puts everybody in place. He's the cornerstone of it. We talk a lot times in our program about kids who are bizarre, they're so serious about football all the time. Juan's that kid. He just loves football. Some (college) coach is going to get really lucky."
De La Cruz, who has on offer from Air Force, has toned up his body.
"I definitely cut off some bad weight and added some good weight," he said. "Last year I was a little bit chunky. I was like 230, but I cut that off to be faster and more explosive."
The Blue Devils will look differently on offense. Running back Martin Walker Jr. graduated after averaging nearly 28 carries per game last season in rushing for 1, 472 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Derrick McLaughlin (6-0, 200) takes over at running back. McLaughlin, who's committed to Indiana State, is the brother of former Blue Devils wide receiver Ricky McLaughlin (Truman State).
"He's just a kid who developed a little later, and he played behind Martin last year," McNulty said. "He had a few injuries later in the season that held him back, but he's as strong as a kid as we've ever had at that position."
The Blue Devils return quarterback Philip Hird (6-1½, 180), who started as a sophomore last year and threw for 1,208 yards (12 TDs, 7 interceptions). There's experience at wide receiver in De Le Cruz (5 TD receptions last season), Connor Lange, Luther Thompson, Matt Garcia and Christian Phillips.
Matt Rich is a three-year starter at center and is joined by fellow veterans Jaiden Lowery and Ethan McDermott on the line.
"We have great receivers, a great O-line, a great running back," Hird said. "There's no need for us to just pound it this year. We're able to spread the field."
The kicker is also a weapon, as Adam Saul is committed to Illinois State.
"We have the talent," Singleton said. "But when you get deep in the playoffs, you got to trust each other."
"We're just going to keep doing what we're doing," Hird said. "The record will take care of itself."