Competitive MSL West still seeking a state championship season
Despite the storied success of the Mid-Suburban West, the conference has yet to produce a state football champion. And with the possible introduction of district football next year, this could be its final opportunity.
The conference has sent at least four teams to the state playoffs in the past four seasons. Hoffman Estates was the last MSL West team to make a deep run. In 2017, the Hawks lost in the state semifinals to eventual state champion Prairie Ridge.
Three teams have finished second in the state -- Palatine in 1994, Barrington in 1998 and Schaumburg in 1999. The Broncos, whose first win this season will be No. 500 in program history, will be seeking their seventh consecutive playoff appearance and 25th overall this season.
"The conference title will be up for grabs again this year," said Barrington coach Joe Sanchez, who is entering his 18th year as head coach. "It is always a dogfight. And it will be like that again this year. Week in and week out, just like it has proven the last several years."
That balance is demonstrated by the number of different schools that have won or shared the conference title over the past 3 years. Conant and Fremd tied for the conference title last season. Barrington won it in 2017 while Palatine won it in 2016 and tied Barrington in 2015.
Barrington appears to be the conference favorite this season. The Broncos return 13 starters form a team that went 7-4 last year.
Their biggest names back are quarterback Tommy Fitzpatrick, who threw for over 1,300 yards last season and 13 touchdowns. His favorite target, EJ Darlington, also returns. Darlington caught 47 passes for 483 yard.
Barrington also returns two of its top defenders. Defensive end Lukas Van Ness (6-5, 240), who had nearly 30 Division-I offers this offseason before choosing Iowa, is back, along with three-year starting middle linebacker Dayven Shinhoster.
Fremd will be older and wiser, but without its top weapon from last season, Nicky Rattin. The Vikings rallied last year to claim a share of the conference title.
Fremd, which started a plethora of juniors and sophomores last season, will have 17 returning starters. Ryan Saxe, who is a junior, leads the Vikings at quarterback. He will have his three main targets back including his brother Andrew Saxe, as well as Jack Hipchen and Ryan Palmer.
Fremd will also look to run the ball a lot behind Jack Walsh (6-4, 285), arguably the top offensive lineman in the conference.
Schaumburg's last conference championship came in 2013 when the Saxons tied Barrington for the title. That season, the Saxons did it with a strong offensive line and superb running game.
Schaumburg has that same formula this season with an offensive line that averages 248 pounds and returning running back Mike DiGioia, who rushed for 550 yards as a sophomore. Luke Jessie, who is 6-5, takes over at quarterback. He will have the athletic and 6-2 Shamaree Brown as his top receiver.
Palatine also had a youth movement last season, but it was not as successful as its crosstown rival.
The Pirates are looking to go from worst to first in the West this season thanks to some improvement s in their defense, which surrendered nearly 40 points per game last year.
Palatine will have a very nice-sized offensive line and return Ronald Todd at running back. Quarterback Joe Ayala, who saw a few snaps last year as sophomore, will have Luke Popovic back to throw to.
Hoffman Estates hasn't won a conference title in over 25 years. The Hawks look to change that with their most athletic squad in years. Jojo Lovelace takes over the reins at quarterback and will operate behind an offensive line that returns four starters.
Conant won't have the size that many of its opponents have. The Cougars will still rely on speed to keep them in the hunt.
Malik Frederick, who was all area a sophomore rushing for 553 yards, moves from wingback to fullback, where he should get more touches. Sophomore Joey Dugo is the new quarterback and has improved daily with his handling of the offense.