Suburban talent abundant in D-III national title game
Derek Kumerow and Andrew Kamienski were seventh-grade teammates on the Bartlett Raiders youth football team.
They later formed a dynamic 1-2 punch as all-area receivers at South Elgin High School.
The close friends -- Kumerow calls them "brothers" -- will be on opposite sidelines when North Central College plays Wisconsin-Whitewater in the Division III football national championship Stagg Bowl in Shenandoah, Texas Friday at 7 p.m. (ESPN-U, 89.1-FM WONC).
The former teammates exchanged congratulatory text messages last weekend once the matchup was finalized.
Now, it's all business.
"We've said our good lucks," Kumerow said. "Other than that, he's got his job and I've got mine. We're going to go out there and play to win."
Wisconsin-Whitewater (13-1) returns to the Stagg Bowl for the first time since 2014, when the Warhawks won a sixth national title in eight seasons.
North Central College (13-1) seeks its first national championship. The Cardinals made a semifinal appearance in 2013.
Both programs are succeeding with players whose names should ring a bell with suburban high school football fans.
Besides Kumerow, UW-W starters include senior cornerback Garrett Purdy of Naperville Central, junior safety Mark McGrath from Lisle, junior running back Alex Peete from Johnsburg and senior kick returner Mason Fleury of Hampshire.
Palatine graduate Zach Oles, a two-time captain of the Daily Herald All-Area Football Team in the northwest suburbs, splits time at quarterback with junior Max Meylor.
North Central's lineup is loaded with suburban talent. Besides Kamienski, the offense features senior right guard Ricky Strba from Buffalo Grove, sophomore left tackle Will Ebert from Hersey, senior quarterback Broc Rutter from Neuqua Valley and junior wide receiver Blake Williams of Metea Valley. Sophomore running back Ethan Greenfield and freshman receiver DeAngelo Hardy are graduates of Lakes High School in Lake Villa.
The entire North Central defensive line hails from the suburbs: ends Dan Gilroy (Cary-Grove) and Talha Ayhan (Glenbard South) and tackles Cameron Martin (Naperville North) and Isiah Ziegler (Dundee-Crown). Sophomore cornerback Braden Lindmark played at Naperville Central.
"We've had some success in Arizona and Colorado over the last few years and we'll continue to do those things, but the majority of our roster is always going to come from the Chicago suburbs," said fifth-year North Central coach Jeff Thorne, an all-state quarterback at Wheaton Central in 1989. "There is so much talent here. The summer camps we're able to run with the major colleges bring so many talented athletes here that get to see our facility and get to work with our coaching staff. I think that's the just natural evolution of becoming a good program. We're very fortunate to be in our location to have access to so many good athletes."
A key title-game matchup is whether Whitewater's defense can limit Rutter, Kamienski and a North Central offense that scores 52 ppg. The pair connected for four passing touchdowns in the first 23 minutes of last week's 45-14 semifinal victory over Muhlenberg College.
Kamienski leads Division III in receiving yards (1,882) and scoring receptions (30). His 30 touchdown catches are a new Division III record. Rutter needs 247 passing yards to tie the all-time Division III career passing record of 13,249.
If the Warhawks try to take away the pass, the Cardinals can hand off to Greenfield. He has rushed for 2,042 yards and 26 touchdowns.
"They've got both facets of the game, which, truly, to me, is the biggest challenge," Whitewater fifth-year coach Kevin Bullis said. "They've got the quarterback, wide receivers and tailback and they can do that because of their offensive line. That's really going to be the biggest challenge. You're not going to nullify that. You're not going to stop them. What you have to do is minimize the damage they do off those big plays, those little explosive plays."
Oles is the leading passer for a Whitewater offense that averages 31.2 ppg. The 56% passer has completed 119 of 213 attempts for 1,509 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has thrown 10 interceptions. Oles' top receivers are Ryan Wisniewski (666 yards, 5 TD), JT Parish (458-2), Kumerow (338-5) and St. Edward graduate Tyler Holte (338-3).
Junior linebacker Ben Wong's 89 tackles lead a North Central defense that limits opponents to 16.6 ppg.