Scouting the football season in the Southwest Prairie Conference
Joliet Central2019 record: 1-8
Coach: Tony Juarez
Worth noting: The Steelmen will be entering the season with their third different head coach leading the program, as last year's head coach Fred Gandy departed to take the job at Thornton. At least the Steelmen won't be led by a coach unfamiliar with the program as longtime coach Tony Juarez takes the reins of the program for the second time. Juarez led the program from 2002-05. This season will likely be used as an attempt at laying a foundation in a program that has struggled to sustain success.
Joliet West2019 record: 4-6
Coach: Bill Lech
Worth noting: After winning the school's first football conference title in over 50 years the Tigers were hoping to use that momentum heading into the 2020 season. The team will look significantly different than initially expected as running back Trent Howland, an Indiana recruit, is recovering from an injury from the fall and won't be with the Tigers this season. However, there was a lot of promising young talent in the Tigers ranks ready to take a step forward into larger roles. Prominent among them is linebacker junior linebacker Bryan McCoy and senior defensive back Nasir Lacey, who as of now plans to walk on at Northern Illinois.
Plainfield Central2019 record: 1-8
Coach: Jon Periero
Worth noting: The Wildcats pressed a lot of underclassmen into duty in 2019 which gives them a lot of experience to start to try to rebuild. Chris Leto will engineer the Plainfield Central offense from under center and he'll be flanked by a pair of returning offensive linemen. The Wildcats also aren't short on size either with several newcomers to the varsity level looking capable of filling the voids. A pair of players Luke Johnson (TE/DL) and Ethan Obeng (RB/DB) are returning starters on both sides of the football. Ideally, other players will develop enough to ease some of the burden on those double duty performers.
Plainfield East2019 record: 5-5
Coach: Brad Kunz
Worth noting: The Bengals have questions to answer on both sides of the football, particularly on defense where nearly every key player was lost to graduation. The situation is a little better for Plainfield East on the offensive side of the football as several building blocks are in place. University of Illinois recruit Zachary Barlev is one of two starters remaining on the offensive line, while Taven Washington is entering his third season as the lead ball carrier. Brett Winiecki will assume the role of engineer of Plainfield East's offensive attack after playing behind highly productive, now graduated Joey Morgan a year ago. Connor Bright seems like the likely candidate to be a favored receiver in the offensive attack.
Plainfield South2019 record: 5-5
Coach: Bill Bicker
Worth noting: The Cougars have developed something of a profile for their program and look to have the components in place to not have to deviate too much from that blueprint this season. Running back Keith Bronson returns for his senior season after having a highly productive junior campaign. Brunson should have plenty of shields thrown up for him too with experienced offensive linemen Chris Bornhoeft and Jeff Guthier leading the way. Defensively, veteran coach Bill Bicker has an army of experienced defensive lineman ready to dispatch which is certainly exactly the way he likes it.
Romeoville2019 record: 1-8
Coach: Justin Trovato
Worth noting: Justin Trovato took over the program midstream in 2019 and now takes over the role from the jump for the Spartans. He'll do so with an experienced group that can hopefully look past the struggles of the program over the past few years. The defense definitely looks like the anchor point for the Spartans with seven seniors returning on that side of the football which will be led by three-year starter defensive back Jacquille Brown, a Northern Michigan recruit. Rebuilding an offensive line that has only two returning starters in Tim Kasper and Jose Pantoja will be a top priority.
Minooka2019 record: 11-1
Coach: Matt Harding
Worth noting: The Indians will try to carry the wave of momentum that finally allowed them to upend the kings of the conference, Oswego, in league play last season. They will do it under new leadership as veteran coach John Belskis left the program and Minooka appointed assistant coach Matt Harding to run the program. Although last year's group was heavy on senior contributors, the program is far from vacated of talent. Defensively, Zach Wingerter and Mason Cave were both just short of 100-tackle performers last year and the offense will likely be guided by Josh Davis, who performed admirably when Minooka's starter was knocked out of a sequence of early season games because of injury.
Oswego2019 record: 9-2
Coach: Brian Cooney
Worth noting: The Panthers had their eight-year hold on the Southwest Prairie Conference snapped by Minooka in 2019, but Oswego's program has been a model of consistency. Oswego has made eight straight playoff appearances with either nine or 10 wins in every season under Brian Cooney. Oswego's strength starts up front. Towering Boston College recruit Otto Hess, Wayne State commit Aidan Tweedy and Olivet Nazarene recruit Carter Anderson all return on the offensive line, with Olivet Nazarene commit Anthony Cikauskas and Matt Egly back on the defensive front. Jack Hugunin, now, at NIU, does leave a void. Returning starting quarterback Cole Pradel is also a standout wrestler and brings that mentality to the position. Evan Brown, last year's leading tackler, and Joey DiMarco also return on defense and senior receiver Nik Hampton on offense. Keep an eye on 6-foot-5 sophomore receiver/tight end Deakon Tonielli.
Oswego East2019 record: 5-5
Coach: Tyson LeBlanc
Worth noting: The Wolves' five wins last season were their fewest since 2014, but they still made their fifth straight playoff appearance. Junior linebacker Jared Badie, who already holds offers from Purdue and Minnesota, among others, is a freak athlete for a Wolves' defense where Oswego East has traditionally put its best athletes. Also back on defense is linebacker Gianni Cammarata, Braydon Grabavoy at nose tackle and Kyle Morrissey at safety. Michael Ford returns for his second season at quarterback, but Oswego East is very inexperienced at the other skill-positions. Junior Darquel Sanders, in his second season playing football, is slated at running back, with Jackson Lamboley, Austin Johnson and Ty Carlson at receiver. Three linemen return up front, a group led by 6-foot-4, 270-pound third-year starter Coran Woods. LeBlanc said sophomore Owen Valek, a former soccer goalkeeper, is a future Division I kicker.
Plainfield North2019 record: 6-4
Coach: Anthony Imbordino
Worth noting: The Tigers lost some explosive offensive skill players to graduation, but still have a few pieces to work with including quarterback Adam Smith. On the defensive side of the ball, there are a lot of things to build upon led by strong safety tackle machine Danny Nuccio and defensive back Carlos Conley. The junior class brings a bumper crop of potential impact players as that group has went a combined 17-1 over their freshman and sophomore campaigns.
West Aurora2019 record: 2-7
Coach: Nate Eimer
Worth noting: The Blackhawks went very young last season in a less than satisfying debut in the Southwest Prairie, and even though some of those players are back to provide a foundation, they'll likely be very young again with as many as eight sophomores playing key roles for the team. They will play anywhere from 15 to 22 underclassmen in pivotal roles. Most of the experience comes on the offensive side of the ball with a potential strong running back tandem of Savion Little and Jeremiah Johnson keying the attack.
Yorkville2019 record: 8-3
Coach: Dan McGuire
Worth noting: The Foxes acquitted themselves quite well in their first season as the smallest school in the SPC, winning their first seven games and posting their second consecutive 8-3 season. A stellar senior class led by Cale Reeder graduated, but there's still quality players in the fold and three starters returning on both sides of the ball to maintain that success. McGuire thinks senior Luke Davies, who missed last season with a knee injury, could be one of the best quarterbacks he's had at Yorkville. Will Schumacher, a senior fullback/linebacker committed to Division II St. Anselm, Jared Slavin, a senior lineman committed to Wisconsin-Whitewater, senior defensive linemen Manny Cervantes and George Alba and senior receiver Brendan McGarahan are among returning starters. Wisconsin-Oshkosh commit Dougie Burson, who got on the field at times last season, is among several good tailbacks. The defense that allowed just 11 points per game in the regular season is hungry to build on that.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCHJared Badie, Oswego East, LB, jr.: A 6-foot-5 outside linebacker with 4.49 speed, Badie could wind up the most-recruited player in Oswego East program history. Purdue and Minnesota are among his Big Ten offers already. Started all 10 games on varsity as a sophomore.
Zachary Barlev, Plainfield East, OL, sr.: Barlev's rise to being a Big Ten caliber recruit (Illinois) has been impressive. Now, he'll try to help the Plainfield East program continue in a very positive direction.
Anthony Cikauskas, Oswego, DL, sr.: Oswego has churned out some pretty impressive defensive linemen the last few years. Add this pass-rushing defensive end, who had 11 sacks as a junior, to the list. With big defensive tackle Jack Hugunin now at NIU, Cikauskas and Matt Egly take the lead up front for what's usually a stout Oswego defense.
Carlos Conley, Plainfield North, DB, sr.: Conley is a playmaker in the secondary for the Tigers and he's capable of being a real standout for the Plainfield North. Still yet to commit collegiately, Conley has extra drive to make an impression in the short season.
Bryan McCoy, Joliet West, LB, jr.: McCoy is a gifted linebacker that should be one of the leading components for the Tigers defense. McCoy is garnering plenty of recruiting interest and deservedly so.
FIVE CAN'T MISS MATCHUPSWeek 2: Oswego at Plainfield North: Plainfield North is trying to get into the upper tier of the conference. This would be a statement game to prove it belongs in that discussion.
Week 3: Yorkville at Oswego East: Yorkville opened eyes in 2019 by winning its first seven games in its maiden season in a league with bigger schools. This provides a gauge on whether the Foxes can maintain that.
Week 4: Oswego at Oswego East: Oswego has never lost to its crosstown rivals, a matchup where the defenses have held the upper hand most often recently. Can the Panthers continue that fall history in the spring?
Week 5: Joliet West at Plainfield South: These two teams established themselves as part of the top contenders group in the East Division. Will be important in deciding conference crown.
Week 5: Oswego at Minooka: Minooka finally knocked Oswego off its perch as the league's dominant team in 2019. Was it a fluke or the development of a trend?