Scouting the Wauconda Bulldogs
Five Wauconda football opponents won a combined 49 games last year, defining "brutally tough schedule."
The Bulldogs counted 5 wins, which was good enough to earn the Bulldogs an at-large state playoff berth. Better yet, it helped make up for a 2017 campaign that was painful both on the field and off it.
"You couldn't get Stephen King to write a more horrific season," said coach Dave Mills, whose Bulldogs went an uncharacteristic 2-7 (worst season in six years) and lost an assistant coach to an unexpected death.
Endure losses to Richmond-Burton (11-2 record, Class 4A semifinalist), Antioch (11-1, Class 6A quarterfinalist) and Cary-Grove (14-0, Class 6A champ), and it should make you better in the future.
Nick Bulgarelli thinks so. Despite the scrambling quarterback's elusiveness and passing (260 yards), Cary-Grove beat Wauconda 49-7 in the first round of the playoffs. The Bulldogs also lost regular-season games to Lakes (8-3 record) and Grayslake North (5-4).
Wauconda opens this season at Richmond-Burton on Aug. 30.
"It was a learning point, for sure," Bulgarelli, Wauconda's first-year starting QB as a sophomore last year, said of the C-G loss. "Just playing against a team like that, playing against Richmond-Burton, Antioch ... those are the kind of games that I look at to see how I can improve on my game."
Mills compares Bulgarelli (6-2, 165) to former Wauconda star QBs Austin Swenson and Kevin Malisheski. Bulgarelli passed for 1,669 yards and 14 TDs last year and was named all-Northern Lake County Conference.
"He's pretty cerebral, which Austin was, and Kevin was a tremendous athlete that could throw the ball 100 yards without thinking about it. Nick has some of that (throwing) ability," said Mills, who's 39-55 with four playoff berths in 10 seasons at Wauconda.
"You like a heady quarterback with skill, don't you?" the coach added, smiling. "They tell me that's pretty good. We like him."
Mills also likes that three of Bulgarelli's receivers from a year ago are back. Javerius McGuinn (17 receptions, 4 TDs) and JJ Jacobo (35 receptions, 5 TDs) were both all-conference players as sophomores. Senior Michael Olsen (16 receptions) is another trusty receiver. Joshua Sloan returns on the offensive line.
Running backs Colin Husko and Nick Bennett are members of a sophomore group that went 9-0 last season. Mills says several sophomores will play on varsity this season.
"They have a lot of team chemistry," McGuinn said. "They've been together for ages. They're real strong and hopefully the kids that play on varsity can help us out."
Wauconda's spread offense was new last year to Bulgarelli, who did not play varsity as a freshman. He wants to be more vocal and more of a leader this season.
"My goal is to read defenses (better)," Bulgarelli said. "Last year it was a lot more simple routes. We got more complex routes that we put in this year."
Defensively, senior Alec Smith returns at end. Colin Westfall and Aidan Stephan are back at outside linebacker. Inside linebacker Matt Leazer was scheduled to start last year but broke his leg during the summer and missed the season.
McGuinn (6-0, 160) also plays safety. He serves as a team captain with Smith, Sloan and Stephan.
"We think we're going to be able to compete with everybody in our conference," Mills said. "We just want to go play football and be competitive."
Showing they're not a one-and-done playoff team is another thing the Bulldogs want to do.
"That (Cary-Grove) game is really going to help us out because we know how it feels to play in that game," McGuinn said. "Our expectation is to be there again (playoffs), but to come out on the winning end."