Football: Scouting the 2021 fall season in the Northern Lake County Conference
2021 spring record: 5-0
Coach: Brian Glashagel
Worth noting: It's been expected in recent years for the Antioch football team to be a contender. After all, the Sequoits are 33-1 in Northern Lake County Conference play since the league started in 2016 and have won every conference title thus far, six straight. But heading into this season, head coach Brian Glashagel isn't quite sure what to expect out of his group, which graduated one of its best players in program history in quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis, who is now playing football at the University of Minnesota along with his twin brother Dino, who was also a big star last year for the Sequoits at running back. "I think we are going to shock some people," Glashagel said. "We know the rest of the NLCC is gunning for us, as they should. But I love this team. We embrace the challenge of the rest thinking our reign at the top of the conference is over." ... Antioch returns senior Andrew Bowles, a three-year starter at running back. Last year, he rushed for 142 yards, had 256 receiving yards and scored 6 touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Joey Neumann, a three-year starter, is back and also scored 6 touchdowns last year. And senior two-year starter Tommy VanSickle will anchor the offensive line. The rest of the offense is young, but Antioch's underlevel teams went undefeated last year ... Meanwhile on defense, the core of the linebackers and defensive backs return, led by senior defensive backs Hunter Bukowy and Leo Reband and junior linebackers Aiden Niemczyk and Chase Clark.
2021 spring record: 0-5
Coach: Jordan Eder
Worth noting: It was a rough spring season for Lakes, which went winless through the abbreviated campaign. But while the young Eagles took their lumps, they also learned a lot that they can apply to this season. Most of the team's starters and key players are back. "While the spring season was tough for us, our young players played well and were competitive throughout the season," Lakes coach Jordan Eder said. "To have the group that we have back, with the experience of the spring season under their belts is exciting for us. We are looking forward to seeing the growth of this group and having a large group of experienced starters return." ... On offense, four of five starting linemen (seniors Cameron Goodson, Blake Goodson, JP Sullivan and Spencer Trawin) are back, as are both starting running backs (Mark Hunter and Amir Al Hindi) and both quarterbacks (Tyson Dewey and Max Bausch) who started games last season. Dewey got injured in Week 3 last spring and Bausch took over. Hunter is a three-year starter for the Eagles ... Defensively, multiple starters return from the spring. Sullivan is a two-way lineman for Lakes.
2021 spring record: 3-3
Coach: Chris Robinson
Worth noting: Grant returns two of its top playmakers from last season in senior running backs Alex Art and Dylan Sjong. Art is also a starter on defense at linebacker ... The offense will be anchored by the return of linemen Lars Miller and Blake Cook. Wide receiver Bryton Reynolds also returns. "Miller and Cook understand our blocking schemes well enough to teach them to the other linemen," Grant coach Chris Robinson said. "Our goal this year is to push ourselves on every rep. Our returning athletes learned quickly that we have some great competition in our conference and to succeed, we can't tolerate any slack or anything that doesn't contribute to the growth of our program." ... Defensively, senior lineman Alex Gomez had a great spring. He rolled up 6 sacks. Gomez, Art and Ivan Hernandez are all three-year varsity players and set a competitive tone for the rest of the unit.
2021 spring record: 2-2
Coach: Mike Maloney
Worth noting: The Rams might have some "senior moments" this fall, and that's more than OK with head coach Mike Maloney. "I've always believed that a team can only be as good as its senior leadership. Luca Maravola, Darryl Overstreet, Devin Racho, Chase James, and Kurt Heerdegen are among the best I've had the pleasure of coaching in my 16 years," Maloney said. "The veteran poise and presence of our offense will be exciting to watch." The offense will be led by Overstreet, who will graduate as the best quarterback statistically in the history of the school. Last year, he completed 60 percent of his passes for 972 yards and 13 touchdowns in just four games. "We have arguably the best quarterback in the NLCC," Maloney said. "We have four three-year starters returning on this unit. And we return three starters on the offensive line with our tight end. Our until will take pride in effective and physical run blocking while keeping Darryl upright to deliver big plays down the field." Heerdegen is the tight end. He caught 13 passes last year, 3 for touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Kaiden Miller, who caught 13 passes last spring, will also be a threat ... The defense will be guided by new coordinator Aaron Towne. He takes over for Ben Ault, who retired after 20 years. The defense features the experience of senior safety Luca Maravola who had 16 tackles and an interception last spring, as well as the youth of sophomore linebacker Matty Jens, who recorded 12 tackles last spring as a freshman. "We have several very athletic, aggressive and tough newcomers," Maloney said of the defense. "This defensive unit has the versatility to defend the run and pass equally and pressure when needed."
2021 spring record: 4-2
Coach: Corey Atwell
Worth noting: The Grayslake North offense will continue to wow this fall with the return of three explosive players: quarterback Jacob Donohue and wide receivers Nathan Atwell and Jack Kukis. Donohue was spectacular as a sophomore last spring, rolling up 1,492 passing yards and 20 touchdowns in just six games. Two of his top receivers were Atwell, who caught 43 passes for 589 yards and 6 touchdowns, and Kukis, who finished with 11 catches for 155 yards and 2 touchdowns. Atwell was top 10 in the state in receiving yards. "With a wide-open offense, having your quarterback back is a huge benefit," Grayslake North coach Corey Atwell said. "We have been able to work on the finer points of the offense this summer, while last year we spent the whole time on installing and learning about spacing." Overall, seven starters return on offense, and that also includes linemen Josh Heery, Chris Place and Nic Green, all of whom started every game last spring ... Defensively, five starters return, including seniors Travis Standerski and Marcus Gawerecki, who were second (33 tackles) and fourth (29) on the team last spring in tackles respectively.
2021 spring record: 1-4
Coach: Scott Blecha
Worth noting: It wasn't just last year that was strange, it's been a strange two years for Round Lake. COVID made last year different but an extensive stadium renovation made the season before that unusual for the Panthers and forced a modified schedule. The team is ready to for a more normal football season, but will do so with a quarterback unlike any quarterback the school has had in a while. Senior Cristian Castro is poised to set all kinds of passing records at the school. "Having passed for over 1,000 yards in a shortened season last spring, as well as during his sophomore season, Cristian has a great opportunity in front of him to put together back-to-back-to back 1,000-yard passing seasons," Round Lake coach Scott Blecha said. "This is especially impressive due to the shortened season last spring. It wouldn't surprise me if (back-to-back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons) would be the first time for that to happen at our school." Last spring, Castro rolled up 1,179 passing yards and 10 touchdowns. He will be surrounded by returning wide receiver Jamariel Brown and running back Kalontae Hawkins as well as returning offensive linemen Adrian Montelongo and Saul Ugarte ... Defensively, Marco Jimenez returns as a starter and captain of the defense. He was the third leading tackler and will play along with Hawkins, who also plays defense as a lineman. Hawkins was the second-leading tackler last spring. "The Panthers will be leaning on multiple senior leaders to set the example and mentor some younger players that will be expected to step up and contribute to the varsity level," Blecha said.
2021 spring record: 5-1
Coach: Dave Mills
Worth noting: In putting together a successful campaign last spring in which they were in contention for the NLCC title, the Bulldogs often had big leads. And those leads allowed for the coaches to sub out starters and insert young reserves early in the second half. Those reserves will now be starters for Wauconda. "We are a young team but we have a lot of players who got experience in the third and fourth quarters last spring," Wauconda coach Dave Mills said. "They had a chance to get used to the speed of the game and get some great experience to prepare for this year." The offense will be anchored by the return of its top two running backs: Vince Bennett and Colin Husko. Tight end Luke Hansen and wide receiver Clayton Glasby are also back. Overall, six starters return on offense ... On defense, where speed with be a strength, five starters return, including two-way starters Husko (defensive back) and lineman Ryan Stephan. "We believe we have a chance to be a good team and compete with the top teams in the NLCC," Mills said.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jacob Donohue, Grayslake North, Quarterback, Junior: Donohue began last spring as a late add at starter due to an injury ahead of him on the depth chart. But he solidified his position quickly with eye-popping stats: 1,492 passing yards and 20 touchdowns in just six games.
Darryl Overstreet, Grayslake Central, Quarterback, Senior: Overstreet was efficient last spring, completing 60 percent of his passes en route to 972 yards and 13 touchdowns in just four games.
Nathan Atwell, Grayslake North, Wide receiver, Senior: Atwell is the beneficiary of a wide-open Grayslake North offense that is constantly airing it out. Last spring, he ranked tenth in the state with 589 receiving yards on 43 catches.
Joey Neumann, Antioch, Wide receiver, Junior: Neumann was a big target last year for NLCC player of the year Athan Kaliakmanis, who is now at University of Minnesota. Neumann is speedy and uses his athleticism to make spectacular plays in tough situations.
Cristian Castro, Round Lake, Quarterback, Senior: Castro will be gunning for his third straight 1,000-yard passing season. In just five games last spring, Castro rolled up 1,179 yards and 10 touchdowns.
FIVE CAN'T-MISS MATCHUPS
Week 3 -- Grayslake North at Grayslake Central: The two sister schools and crosstown rivals didn't get a showdown last spring due to the abbreviated schedule. They'll be itching to get their big game in.
Week 4 -- Antioch at Grayslake North: Two of the typically best teams in the Northern Lake County Conference bring out the best in each other.
Week 5 -- Antioch at Wauconda: Antioch won the NLCC last year by defeating Wauconda in a wild game that ended with a last-second touchdown. The loss was the only blemish on Wauconda's spring season.
Week 6 -- Antioch at Grant: These two teams and longtime rivals always elevate the physical factor against each other.
Week 8 -- Grayslake North at Wauconda: Both Grayslake North and Wauconda were chasing Antioch for the NLCC title last spring. Could this game be for the league title this season?