Scouting the Interstate 8 Conference
Here's a look at the football season in the Interstate Eight Conference.
Kaneland2019 record: 8-3, 5-2
Coach: Pat Ryan
Worth noting: All-state lineman Sam Pryor is back for his senior year. The North Central College recruit will anchor both lines. Four starters return on the offensive line, and Ryan said the team has a deep running back core with Jack McIntire -- who he labeled as an "athlete" more than a running back -- Evan Hogan and Corey Phillips. He added that he expects Erik Teran to have a big year at linebacker for the Knights.
LaSalle-Peru2019 record: 5-5, 4-3
Coach: Jose Medina
Worth noting: The Cavaliers return a strong offensive core from last year's team that ended the program's 10-year playoff drought, but L-P will be very inexperienced on defense. Senior quarterback Tyler Hartman is back to direct the Cavs' triple-option offense after throwing for 396 yards and eight touchdowns while running for 550 yards and seven scores in 2019. Also back are senior running backs Drake Weber (273 total yards, five touchdowns in six games in 2019) and Carlos Larios (674 yards, four touchdowns) who will operate behind an offensive line that returns three starters in seniors Reid Robeza, Carson Mrowicki and Eric Lane. "We want to establish the run game," Medina said. "That's been the No. 1 thing since we transitioned to this offense. It helps when you have a guy like Carlos returning. Drake can block for us, he can run and he is a good receiver out of the backfield." L-P must replace its entire defensive line while the Cavs return just one linebacker with experience in senior Levi Reed. L-P is more experienced in the secondary with juniors Tre'Von Hunter and Sean Whitfield returning.
Morris2019 record: 7-3, 6-1
Coach: Alan Thorson
Worth noting: Senior running back John Landers recently signed to play with Augustana. Sophomore offensive lineman Justin Hemmersback returns after starting last year as a freshman. Thorson's teams have qualified for the playoffs in 7 of his 10 years, including state runner-up finishes in 2012 and 2017. Others to watch include junior quarterback, junior defensive back Zack Romak and sophomore running back Sam Reddinger.
Ottawa2019 record: 1-8, 0-7
Coach: Chad Gross
Worth noting: The Pirates have just three victories over the past four seasons. Two-year starting quarterback Brett Galletti transferred last spring, but Gross says there are a couple kids that will be looking to earn the spot and feels can fill the void. Despite the shortened season, the Pirates will be able to renew their longtime rivalry with a visit to La Salle-Peru in Week 4. Ottawa has fallen to the Cavaliers in the last five meetings with the all-time series dating back to 1898 in favor of L-P, 65-50-5. Three-year senior starter Matt Ahearn (offensive line and defensive line) will be the main leader for the Pirates, according to Gross, who feels with running backs Brian Schomas (senior) and Javarius Whitfield (junior), as well as a solid receiving group of Briar Naggs (senior), Jake Serby (senior) and Luke Cushing (junior), the Pirates should be able to move the ball effectively. Gross also will be looking for the Pirates defense to improve on the 35 points per contest it allowed in 2019.
Plano2019 record: 2-7, 1-6
Coach: Rick Ponx
Worth noting: The Reapers had tough sledding in 2019 in their first season in the reconfigured Interstate Eight, losing their last six games and were shut out five times. With just nine seniors, Plano will be a young team that will lean heavily on juniors and a large sophomore class to contribute -- giving them experience going into the fall. The Reapers will likely start three sophomores and a junior on the offensive line and a sophomore at quarterback. Most of Plano's seniors will start both ways, a group led by Aurora University recruit Xavier Padilla at receiver and safety and Carroll College commit Kevin Serio at linebacker and tight end. Others include Eddie Sanchez at fullback and defensive line, Sebastian Estrade at receiver and safety, Eddie Hernandez at tight end and linebacker. Tony Licea, the Reapers' leading rusher last year, also returns. Ponx, in his second season, was able to use the long offseason to develop Plano's strength program.
Rochelle2019 record: 4-5, 3-4
Coach: Kyle Kissack
Worth noting: The front seven brings back a trio of tough defenders with inside linebacker Ben Harvey, defensive lineman Noah Messer and defensive lineman Ethan Albers. Messer and Albers will both play on the offensive line as well. Kissack said the team will be physical at the point of attack and fundamentally sound on defense. "I'm sure most coaches are saying the same thing, but we're just trying to get a little better each week. I like our group of kids and the way they compliment each other."
Sandwich2019 record: 4-5, 2-5
Coach: Kris Cassie
Worth noting: The Indians last season hung tough in the revamped Interstate Eight, just missing the playoffs with their second straight 4-5 season under Cassie. Record-setting running back Nic Lidinsky graduated, but the other half of Sandwich's 2019 rushing attack, James Coleman, returns as the Indians' lead back. The Indians will be a young team with only eight seniors, with Cassie expecting to get key contributions from sophomores Seven Tornga and Dan Reedy. Drew Theurer, Evan Wilson, Jacob Heilemeier, Ryan Dabbert, Max Coldwater and Cole Mansur are other returners. Cassie said it's a young and hungry football program with good numbers this spring and that summer and fall retention has been excellent.
Sycamore2019 record: 10-2, 7-0
Coach: Joe Ryan
Worth noting: With the abbreviated campaign without a postseason set to begin, Ryan said the Spartans are focused as repeating as conference champs. More than likely that will require a perfect run through the six-game schedule, which includes both the second- and third-place finishers from a year ago in Morris and Kaneland. Ryan pointed out how hard it is to win a conference title, noting that he's been to the state semifinals in his time at Sycamore more than he has conference titles. Nathaniel Altepeter returns at running back for the Spartans, starting there last year after an injury to Logan Egler. Senior Caden Carrier will take over at quarterback. Senior Dylan Shuman, a three-year starter, will anchor an otherwise inexperienced line on both sides of the ball.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Dylan Shuman, Sycamore, OL/DL, sr.: The Spartans are inexperienced all over the field, but coach Joe Ryan said that Shuman brings a wealth of experience to help out. He's entering his third year as a starter on both lines.
John Landers, Moris, RB, sr.: The Augustana commit has been a staple in the backfield for Morris for the last two years. He'll be back and hoping to take the team to the top of the standings.
Sam Pryor, Kaneland, sr., OL/DL: The North Central College recruit was an all-state selection last year, and at 6-1, 270 presents problems for teams.
Eric Brisenon, Rochelle, RB, jr.: Called an impact junior by coach Kyle Kissack, he had a handful of carries as a sophomore last year and is expected to have more of an impact in the backfield for the Hubs.
Tyler Hartman, La Salle-Peru, QB/LB, sr.: Hartman returns to direct L-P's triple-option offense. The dual-threat ran for 550 yards and seven touchdowns and threw for 396 yards and eight scores in 2019 as he led the Cavaliers to their first playoff berth in a decade. He was an all-conference pick as a junior. Hartman may see time at linebacker this spring to bolster a young L-P defense.
FIVE CAN'T MISS MATCHUPS
Week 1: Kaneland at Sycamore: The two rivals meet early, coming off Sycamore's 35-14 win in 2019. And with Kaneland not facing Morris this year, it could be the Knights' key to an undefeated season.
Week 2: LaSalle-Peru at Rochelle: The Hubs have to face the four teams that finished ahead of them in the standings last year, and if they want to move out of fifth place, a showdown early in Week 2 is that chance against the Cavaliers, who took fourth in the I8 and made the playoffs. Rochelle lost 11-0 last year and finished 4-5.
Week 4: Sycamore at Morris: The teams were first and second in the conference last year, so like the Sycamore game being big for the Knights, it is also a big one for Morris. The Spartans held on for a 35-30 win in 2019.
Week 4: Ottawa at LaSalle-Peru: One of the oldest rivalries in the state renews, as the Cavaliers look for their sixth straight win in the series. They were 35-14 winners last season.
Week 5: Morris at LaSalle-Peru: If LaSalle-Peru is going to improve off one of its most successful seasons in years, defending their home turf in this one will be key. The Cavs put up a fight in Morris last year, losing 13-0.