Wheaton North enters 2022 season with target on its back
Wheaton North football coach Joe Wardynski gathered his players together for one final meeting before the end of a recent weekend.
After competing in the Downers Grove South 7-on-7 and Linemen Challenge July 16, the Falcons listened to Wardynski provide insight on the upcoming season.
The Falcons concluded a historic season last fall by winning the Class 7A state championship, defeating St. Rita 35-6 at Northern Illinois University to culminate a stunning run to the program's fourth state title.
Wardynski pointed out that his "new group" must contend with the dreaded bull's-eye on their backs after winning 13 of 14 games last year.
"We talked about the fact we didn't look very sharp today and I'm sure there's a lot of teams walking off the field against us and saying, 'That team won a state championship last year but doesn't look like a state championship team,' " Wardynski said.
"I told the team, 'No. This team didn't win a state championship last year. It was last year's team. It was our program, so winning that title puts a target on their backs.'
"We're going to get everybody's best and we know that. We have to raise our level of play. We're trying to get better each day. The fact we won last year has wore off. It's time to get back to work."
The 2022 Falcons will have a much different look than the state title team, mainly because of the lack of returning starters, especially at skill positions. Quarterback is the key area of concern after the graduation of Mark Forcucci. The team lost five starters on offense and nine on defense.
"We don't have a lot of returning starters," Wardynski said. "It's wide open. We just talked about as a group here that the guys who know where to line up and their assignments are going to have the best advantage. The best athlete isn't always going to be the one who plays. We have a ways to go, but hopefully we will keep on getting better."
Linebacker Ross Dansdill is back to cause havoc. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder senior said he's ready for the challenge to lead the defense. He had a strong start this summer, picking up offers from Lafayette College, Columbia University, Dartmouth, Princeton, Penn and Fordham University in June.
"It's great to come off a good season, but we know we definitely have a target on our backs," Dansdill said. "We've been working hard all summer to live up to the high expectations. It's definitely going to be hard because everyone wants to beat us. It's been a shorter offseason, but I'm not complaining. We're all looking to get back to it."
Dansdill said he grew "about an inch" and added 15 pounds to his frame, which helped his recruiting. Dansdill ranked second on the team in tackles last season with 74.5, including 12.5 tackles for a loss and one interception. He had a team-high eight tackles in the win over St. Rita.
"I'm looking to stay fast and healthy," he said. "I feel a lot stronger and powerful and am really looking to see what I can do this season. I have to be a leader to the upcoming juniors. I'm looking to go out with a bang ... and keep the momentum going."
Senior free safety Tyler O'Connor joins Dansdill as the two returning starters on defense. O'Connor, who also punted, kicked off and returned punts last season, finished with seven tackles and a key interception against St. Rita.
"This year is a lot different because we lost a lot of key players and have a lot of new players coming in," O'Connor said. "I'm looking forward to seeing who fits into these new positions because it could be anybody. I know I have to fill some big shoes and have to take control. Once we figure it out on defense, we will work pretty well together."
O'Connor said he might add another position to his resume.
"I'm also working in at quarterback. I haven't played it since sophomore year."