Scouting the Palatine Pirates
It was like falling off a cliff for Palatine last season. Now the Pirates are looking to climb their way back to the top.
Palatine went 1-8 and equaled its worst record in 14 seasons. But the Pirates are looking to change their fortunes this season.
"Every now and again you have to take your lumps," Palatine coach Corey Olson said. "That is the way it goes. A lot of things contributed to it. But I am more focused on this year's team."
Palatine was uncharacteristically poor on defense last season, allowing an average of 39 points per game. That defense was loaded with sophomores and juniors, who now, a year older and wiser, are ready turn things around.
"We are a ton better," Olson said. We return a lot of players and added some pieces to it. We had a lot of juniors and sophomore starting last year. They know the system and are ready to contribute in a big way."
The Pirates will have a full rotation on the defensive line with five different players in the mix. Peter Russchenberg, Mossimo Vardamaskos, Ricky Orozco all played last season while Jayden Houskins and Jake Wagner also figure to see most of the action upfront.
At linebacker, Palatine will have a senior, junior and sophomore starting. Brandon Hernandez, who started last year and is a senior, will anchor the unit in the middle. Rand Paddack, who is a junior, and sophomore Mitch Larkin will be on the outside.
Brady Foote and Sam Adame will be at the corners with help from Eric Pecson, Jared Wright and Tyler Klipowicz. Noe Arreola and Tyler Pecson will be at safety.
Joe Ayala, who is a junior, will take over the reins at quarterback this season. Ayala did a little work last year as a sophomore and Olson is very high on him.
"He is doing a great job," Olson said. "It paid dividends that we had him up last year. He knows the system and is a pretty athletic kid. He throws well and can he can run the ball too."
That should play well into the Pirates philosophy of running the football first.
Junior Ronald Todd came on for the Pirates in the last half of the season last year to develop into a solid running back. He rushed for 510 yards on 100 carries and should double that load this season.
"He looks great and I think he is ready to have a breakout year," Olson said. "His attitude is tremendous. He has grown up a lot and he is as talented a kid as you can have. It is a matter of how we can get him the ball because he does everything you want a back to do."
Todd will have some help in the backfield. He will have a lineman-style fullback to block for him in Ethan Oles, who is 5-10, 195 pounds.
He will also get to operate behind an offensive line that returns four starters from last year. The offensive line should have good size with Nathan Cwiakala (6-1, 258), Andrew Oles (5-11, 234), Brian Fernandez (5-11, 265) and Dan Walsh (6-2, 262) all back along with Carlos Garcia (5-10, 223).
The wide receiving corps will be led by Luka Popovic, who led the team last season with 30 catches last season for 367 yards. Eric Pecson will also be a factor along with Charles Harris, who will be playing in the slot and gives the Pirates an option to run him as well. Sean Kaczor and Alex Clue give Palatine some depth at wide out.
"We certainly want to run the ball and be versatile," Olson said. "That will open up the pass that way."
Palatine has changed its opening night opponent and retained the difficulty level. The Pirates moved away from Stevenson and will now face St. Charles North, which was the Class 7A state runner-up last year.
"I am excited about our football team," Olson said. "The kids have worked hard and they are hungry. It is a senior group. They notice the little things and make them important. That tells you a lot about how they are and it gets us all very excited about them."