Scouting the Maine South Hawks
It's David Inserra's 19th year as Maine South's head coach.
And to him, the season opener will feel like Christmas Day.
"I'm as excited now as I was on my very first day of coaching," Inserra said. "I love working with our kids. I love being in our community. My summers are Maine South football. I'm at school seven hours a day in the summer. It's because I absolutely love it."
And what's not to love?
Inserra is the leader of one of the most successful high school football programs in the state of Illinois.
Maine South has won six state championships since 1995 and four under Inserra since 2001. The Hawks have also finished as state-runner up three times, all under Inserra.
Maine South's most recent state title was in 2016 in Class 8A.
"I think one important thing is that we have had a lot of continuity in our coaching staff," said Inserra, who is a Maine South alum (1985) himself and was a quarterback for legendary coach Phil Hopkins. Inserra was then an assistant coach for Hopkins when Maine South won the program's first state title in 1995.
"I also think we have a very supportive community that really places an importance on football," Inserra said. "There is still a small-town atmosphere in Park Ridge. We don't have a lot of busy streets. You can still ride your bike from one end of town to another, so people get to know our kids and they support them. And our kids grow up wanting to be like the current Maine South football players. Football here is a community event that a lot of people get into. This is a very family- and kid-friendly community, and high school football thrives in that setting."
Maine South had another season to make its community proud last year. The Hawks finished 2018 with a 10-2 record, falling in the quarterfinals to eventual state champion Loyola.
"Class 8A is tough," Inserra said. "The last two years, we've lost to the eventual state champion. There are a lot of teams in 8A that can win the state championship. It's competitive, but we like that. There's nothing wrong with setting your expectations high. When we lost last year, we started working right away. Losing in the quarters was motivation to run that extra sprint, to work a little harder to prepare for this year."
The Hawks return six starters on offense, starting with their big centerpiece on the line, senior Pete Skoronski. Skoronski is a 6-foot-4, 275-pound three-year starter who has already committed to Northwestern.
"He's a Top-30 player in the nation, a national recruit," Inserra said of Skoronski. "He's one of the hardest-working, smartest and most self-directed players I've ever coached. He's athletic and powerful and strong. He's everything you want in a player."
Joining Skoronski on the line is fellow returner Nick Karnezis.
The rest of the Hawks' experience on offense comes in the form of four wide receivers: Dan Lazic, Ryan Kilburg, Nate Smith and Michael Velazquez. Kilburg has committed to Western Michigan and has size (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) and speed.
"All four of our receivers return," Inserra said. "But we have a new quarterback."
Luke Leongas might be Maine South's new quarterback, but he has a name that fans of the program will immediately recognize.
Leongas is the younger brother of Nick Leongas, who was the quarterback of Maine South's 2016 state championship team. Nick is now playing at Johns Hopkins.
"Luke was born to be a quarterback," Inserra said of the younger Leongas. "He is very capable and he had an awesome summer. He knows how to play, he has a great arm, he can do things on his feet and he's been around the game. He grew up around it."
Inserra says Leongas will guide an offense that will strive to be up-tempo with an emphasis on its four explosive receivers.
Defensively, Maine South returns only two starters from last season and both are two way players: Skoronski will be on the line and Kilburg, the wide receiver, will play back at safety.
"Usually on defense, we have at least three or four starters back," Inserra said. "But I'm not that worried. We had a very good defense last year, a very senior-laden defense. But we have a lot of kids who have waited for their turn and they've worked really hard. I think they'll be ready."
Inserra is looking for middle linebacker Liam Barry, safety Danny Locascio and linemen Patrick Hamilton and Ben Triffo to be impact players on defense now that they are getting a chance for more reps and playing time.
Kicker Johnny Sassan should also be a dangerous weapon for the Hawks.
"Johnny is very reliable and having a kicker like that makes such a difference," Inserra said. "At any level, it takes a load off your mind to have a reliable kicker."
Maine South will be tested right away with its season opener against perennial power Glenbard West, then Mount Carmel and Fremd in Weeks 2 and 3.
"Knowing those teams were on our schedule right away definitely made for an exciting offseason," Inserra said. "There was no better motivation. Those teams are really, really good and we are excited to match up against them."