2022 season preview: Scouting the West Suburban Conference
2021 record: 0-9
Coach: Chris Bazant
Worth noting: The trend lines suggest tough sledding for the Blazers. Addison Trail's last winning season came in 2014. The Blazers were outscored in games last season by a combined margin of 396-63 and Bazant, now entering his third season as head coach, admitted that "numbers in the program are not where we would like them to be." "We are going to utilize everyone's talents in order to compete at a high level this season," Bazant said. "We have a lot of guys playing multiple positions and are going to be asking them to do a lot and play hard." The Blazers will be looking for a combination of senior running back Dmarius Allen, junior quarterback Gio Long and senior wide receiver Eddie Franzak to move the ball offensively. The offensive line is young, but Bazant said it has shown improvement over the summer. Defensively, the Blazers will have several new faces and look to senior defensive backs Mike Gonzalez and Juan Lucas to lead the way. "Our big emphasis for this season is on doing the little things right and our fundamentals," Bazant sad. "Especially with our tackling which has not been at the level we would like to be at the last few seasons. We have stressed getting to the ball, being in good positions and finishing."
Downers Grove South
2021 record: 5-5
Coach: Mark Molinari
Worth noting: The Mustangs last season won their last five games after an 0-4 start to make their second straight playoff appearance after a four-year drought. Downers Grove South played 19 sophomores over the course of the season. The Mustangs' first four games are a gauntlet -- defending Class 7A champ Wheaton North, Glenbard West, Downers Grove North and defending West Suburban Gold champ Willowbrook. Downers Grove South returns six starters on offense and three other sophomores who saw time last season. Injuries and the pandemic have limited senior tight end/defensive lineman Mack O'Halloran to 10 games over two varsity seasons, but the two-way standout with offers from Army and Central Michigan is set to lead the Mustangs. He ran anchor on Downers Grove South's 4x100 relay that took fifth at state and has run a 4.7 40. Quarterback Ryan Dawson is also entering his third season as a varsity starter. Also back is 6-foot-5 tight end Brandon Amenionpong, an Indiana State commit, and junior running back Deon Davis, who Molinari called "a special kid." The Mustangs are young at receiver with the graduation of standout Eli Reed, now at NIU, and on the offensive line with only one senior starter. Defensively, O'Halloran and Joe Genna are back on the line and linebacker Keandre Miles is a third-year starter. Will Potter, returning at safety alongside Dylan Spencer, was all-conference in football, basketball and baseball as a sophomore, a kid Molinari called "a throwback." "We will find out a lot about our team in those first four weeks," Molinari said.
2021 record: 4-5
Coach: Mike Barry
Worth noting: The Hornets have missed the last two postseasons after making the playoffs in four of the previous five seasons under Barry, going into his 12th season as head coach. Barry said the Hornets are looking forward to getting back on the field with many returning starters. Two-way starter Griffin Carr, who had 63 tackles and 11 sacks last season, is a two-time all-conference pick who Barry believes could be poised for a breakout season. Other key returners include running back Anthony Montez, linebacker Dylan McMurray, offensive lineman Davon Williams, linebacker/tight end Matt Hurley, quarterback Robbie Sprang, receiver/outside linebacker Nate Fundator, receiver/defensive back Sam Schuler and tight end/outside linebacker Matt Rudolph. Top newcomers include running back Mikey Jefferson, wide receiver Ayden Ferrare, linebacker Alec Miller and defensive lineman Jovani Piazza. Barry said it's a group with plenty of speed and big-play potential if it executes. "Being the smallest school in the West Suburban at around 1,250 students poses challenges with depth so staying healthy is the key moving forward week to week," Barry said.
2021 record: 3-6
Coach: Tom Cerasani
Worth noting: Cerasani is going into his 18th season on the Leyden sidelines. Offensively, the Eagles will depend on senior and first-time starter Ethan Corral at quarterback. He was sidelined most of last season due to injury. Returning starters Diego Mendoza at tailback and Mario Reyes and Damian Salazar at wide receiver, all seniors, will get the majority of the touches. Up front, Cerasani said that tight end senior John Kapingil should be a key player at tight end, with returning starters Zach Lowe and Darterrion Gardner on the offensive line. Mendoza and Kapingil will play both ways, also starting at outside linebacker. Defensively, defensive end Julian Rivera and Eddie Torres at linebacker will lead a young, aggressive group of players. "Overall, we are still rebuilding our numbers coming off Covid, but our goal remains to make the playoffs this year," Cerasani said.
2021 record: 3-6
Coach: Bob Organ
Worth noting: While a 3-6 season doesn't sound like a reason to celebrate, the three wins were Morton's most since 2012 so there is a result to build on. The Mustangs return five starters on offense and five on defense, led by fourth-year starter Leon Kelsick at wide receiver and three-year starter Matthew Ontiveros on the offensive line. Senior tight end/defensive end Aaron Miramontes, 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, lost 30 pounds in the offseason and Organ expects he "will be a force." Senior Trujillo Santos, at 315 pounds, is a force to move. Senior Gabe Ibanez and junior defensive back Danny Torres are two-year starters and 6-foot-4 junior receiver Mike Barnes is a starter on the basketball team. Others to watch include senior receiver Jeremiah Putterlik, senior defensive back Angelo Garcia, senior offensive/defensive lineman Sebastian Del Angel, senior Keion Devine Woods, senior quarterback Julian Hernandez, senior running back Milton Martinez, junior tight end/defensive lineman Tyler Nichols and junior running back Jeremiah Jones. "We had a great offseason," Organ said. "We will be young at some positions but the kids are embracing the opportunity they have and getting better by the day."
2021 record: 1-8
Coach: Aaron Peppers
Worth noting: Peppers is going into this third season of his second stint as Proviso East coach. The Pirates struggled mightily on defense last season, allowing 45.4 points per game with their lone win over Addison Trail. Leading the way for Proviso East this season will be 6-foot-6, 320-pound junior offensive/defensive tackle Jaiden Gary, senior running back/defensive back Jeremiah Williams, senior running back/defensive back KeyOndre Benson and senior wide receiver/defensive back Joshua Rowe, who Peppers touts as all Division I prospects.
2021 record: 8-4
Coach: Nick Hildreth
Worth noting: The Warriors have owned the Gold division the last half-decade with five straight titles and 28 consecutive Gold wins during that stretch. Willowbrook has also made five consecutive playoff quarterfinal appearances. Four starters return on offense and eight on defense, although the Warriors must replace All-State wide receiver/defensive back Nick Mabutas and honorable mention All-State lineman Cristian Lager. Junior quarterback AJ Palicki, who threw for 1,355 yards and 12 TDs last season, is a third-year varsity starter. Senior wide receiver/defensive back Joey Tumilty, whose older brothers Sam and Scotty also starred at Willowbrook, is a returning two-way starter who had 30 catches for 537 yards and five TDs, ran for 655 yards and eight TDs and was second on the team in total tackles last year with 85 and had three interceptions. Jamis Chhotala and Sam Williams return on the Willowbrook offensive line. Starters back defensively include Tumilty, linebackers Damian Banaszewski, Adrian Guerrero (50 tackles, 6.5 for loss, two sacks last year), Luca Parato, Amari Buchanan, lineman Ryan Kneble and Jimmy Degnan and Cam Ray in the secondary.
Downers Grove North
2021 record: 4-5
Coach: Joe Horeni
Worth noting: The Trojans dropped their last four games of the 2021 season to narrowly miss the playoffs, but optimism abounds in Downers Grove. Nine starters return on offense and six on defense, with seven third-year starters. Senior wide receiver Ethan Thulin has 800 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in his varsity career, quarterback Sam Reichert 1,600 passing yards and 14 TDs and a third returning skill-position player, Noah Battle, 700 yards rushing and four TDs. Anchoring the starters back on the defensive side is outside linebacker Josh Lambert, who had 90 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two sacks, safety Joe Chiarelli (58 tackles, two interceptions and five pass break ups) and defensive end Ben Bielawski (56 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks). Horeni also is high on his special teams, with Sean Ryniec handling kickoff and field goal duties and Jimmy Janicki, also a linebacker, at punter. "We are excited for the challenge of our conference," Horeni said. "As for question marks, we will need to see who steps up in the defensive backfield."
2021 record: 8-3
Coach: Chad Hetlet
Worth noting: The Hilltoppers won at least a share of 11 Silver titles in 12 seasons between 2008-2019 under Hetlet, so first order of business is reestablishing league preeminence after Hinsdale Central claimed both spring and fall championships in 2021. Glenbard West's strength starts up front, with all five starters returning on an offensive line touted as the biggest Hetlet has had -- an average of 250 pounds across the board, anchored by 305-pound All-Stater and Wisconsin recruit Chris Terek. Ten total return on offense, but Glenbard West could start six juniors on defense. "We have a ton of experience back on offense and we will look to them to lead us until our young defense gets varsity experience," Hetlet said. Joey Pope, who holds an offer from Army, is a returning 1,000-yard rusher who runs a 4.3 40 as the fastest back Hetlet has had and senior quarterback Korey Tai and junior receiver JuJu Ellens are both in their third season on varsity. Hetlet is also very high on 6-foot-4 senior tight end Filip Maciorowski. Senior middle linebacker Jack Oberhofer will lead a defense that will be without junior defensive end Danny Coffey until Week 3. Coffey is one of five juniors who played up on varsity as sophomores. Marcello Diomede is a five-star kicker committed to Notre Dame.
2021 record: 9-2
Coach: Brian Griffin
Worth noting: The Red Devils have gone unbeaten in the Silver the last two seasons and have won at least eight games in five straight full seasons. Five starters return on offense and six on defense. Griffin believes he has two quarterbacks who can play at a high level. Returning starter Billy Cernugel led Hinsdale Central to nine straight wins last season, with Ben Monahan -- who started Week 1 but suffered a season-ending broken leg in the game -- back to compete for playing time. Whoever is under center will have skill kids with experience in returning receivers Carter Contreras and Reese Kolke. There is inexperience in the backfield and on the offensive line, with Marko Ivanisevic and Mark Ortiz the lone returners up front. Hinsdale Central's secondary is almost all returning with Kevin Conners, Charlie Cornell, Andrew Sheldon and Gavin VandeLune, with leading tackler Joe Boggs back at linebacker and Sean Lynch on the line. The Contreras brothers -- Carter and incoming freshman Riley -- are worth keeping an eye on. "Overall, we have a great group of seniors who have taken their leadership role seriously and are poised to lead this team into the 2022 school year," Griffin said.
2021 record: 5-5
Coach: Jon Beutjer
Worth noting: The Lions return a significant amount of starters from last year's team that returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2017 and lost to eventual Class 8A state champ Lockport in the first round. The defense will be anchored by junior lineman and Division I prospect Eddie Tuerk. Tuerk holds 16 scholarship offers including Michigan, Iowa, Illinois and Tennessee. Junior quarterback Ryan Jackson made his varsity debut in Week 6 last season, and threw for 165 yards and two TDs in Lyons' playoff-clinching Week 9 win over Downers Grove North. Senior tight end Graham Smith, a Yale recruit, leads a receiving corps that includes Noah Pfafflin and Travis Stamm. Jack Cheney and Danny Pasko will get the bulk of the carries behind an offensive line that returns Aidan Hallett and Kevin Cruz. Returning defensively behind Tuerk are senior linebackers Danny Pasko, Cooper King and Jack Falls, senior captain James Georgelos at safety and Quinn McGee at cornerback. "The Lions will once again battle in the West Suburban Conference and look to build upon last year's playoff appearance and advance in the 8A playoffs this year," Beutjer said.
Oark Park-River Forest
2021 record: 4-5
Coach: John Hoerster
Worth noting: The Huskies are no doubt motivated to get back on the field after narrowly missing the playoffs last year. Oak Park-River Forest scored with 90 seconds remaining in their must-win Week 9 game with York last season, but gave up a score in the final minute in a 36-33 loss. Oak Park-River Forest has missed the last two postseasons with 4-5 records after reaching the playoffs in seven straight years under Hoerster. The Huskies return five starters on offense and six or seven on defense. Senior quarterback Jack Gooch is for all intents and purposes a third-year starter. "Captain, all-conference -- we really think the world of Jack," Hoerster said. "He is a very smart football player, can do a lot of things. He really is like having another coach on the field." Ryan Martin is Gooch's top receiver back, with Cole Roberson and Joey Daschbach back on the offensive line, and Kaden Garland also played some last season. Defensively, the Huskies have playmakers at all three levels with Roberson and Kole Sneed on the line, Sam Gray and Eric Evans at linebacker and Cameron Crape, Jacob Bickhem and Martin in the secondary. There is buzz about the Aug. 27 season opener at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview as OPRF is playing crosstown rival and defending Class 5A state champ Fenwick for the first time since 1989. "It hasn't happened in a long time, and these kids know each other," Hoerster said. "The good thing is that the game was announced when it was announced so now our kids can focus on the task at hand and get better in practice. No matter who we play the first game of the season we have to be ready for it."
2021 record: 1-8
Coach: Scottie Ware
2021 record: 8-2
Coach: Mike Fitzgerald
Worth noting: The Dukes are a program on the rise. In its fourth season under Fitzgerald last fall York started the season 6-0, beat Glenbard West for the first time since 2007, and made the playoffs for the first time since 2011 with its most wins since 2010. Building off of that, the Dukes return a strong core led by quarterback Matt Vezza and linebacker David Loch, with a junior class that went 9-0 as sophomores and 90 kids out for varsity football. Vezza, one of the area's better dual-threat quarterbacks who holds an offer from Drake, threw for 1,323 yards and 11 touchdowns and ran for 530 yards and six TDs as a junior, and has run a 4.48 40-yard dash. Senior running back Kelly Watson ran for 600 yards and six TDs and caught 19 passes for 172 yards. Big-play threat Charlie Specht, who holds an offer from Valparaiso, caught 18 passes for 353 yards. Loch, who had 82 tackles last season, leads a front seven that is physical and fast with an experienced secondary back. Other starters back include senior offensive lineman Dominic Begora, senior defensive back Reece Richardson, senior defensive back Matt Sutter, senior defensive back Jack Korzeniowski, senior defensive lineman John Renier, senior linebacker/tight end Anthony Mancini and senior linebacker Evan Grazzini. Junior running back Jake Melion and junior linebacker Cole Ostendorf are among the newcomers to watch. "We also have some very good depth and competition at multiple positions which is critical in putting a playoff run together," Fitzgerald said. "Last year we accomplished a huge goal of making the playoffs, but this group has bigger aspirations and goals than just making playoffs."
Five players to watch
Joey Pope, Glenbard West, sr., running back: Pope was one of nine juniors who started on offense for Glenbard West last year, logging over 1,000 yards rushing and accumulating 2,000 all-purpose yards. The fastest running back Hetlet's ever had -- Pope has been clocked at 4.3 in the 40 -- he's poised for another huge season behind an experienced line.
Ethan Thulin, Downers Grove North, sr., receiver/defensive back: Do-all talent who just received his first Division I offer from Dayton is one of seven Trojans' third-year starters. Thulin last season caught 45 passes for 650 yards and seven touchdowns. Also had 16 tackles, returned an interception for a TD and had two punt returns for TDs. For his varsity career has 800 receiving yards and 10 TDs.
Eddie Tuerk, Lyons, junior, defensive line: Third-year varsity player is the sixth-ranked prospect in Illinois' Class of 2024 by 247Sports. Tuerk, a 6-foot-4, 255-pound four-star recruit, holds 16 offers including Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Tennessee.
Joey Tumilty, Willowbrook, sr., receiver/defensive back: The younger brother of former Willowbrook stars Sam and Scotty Tumilty is poised for a huge season. Like his siblings, he does a little bit of everything. Tumilty ran for 655 yards and eight TDs, caught 30 passes for 537 yards and five more TDs and was Willowbrook's second-leading tackler at safety as a junior.
Matt Vezza, York, sr., quarterback: Vezza didn't start last season as York's full-time quarterback, but he quickly took the reins and emerged as one of the best dual-threats in the western suburbs. Vezza threw for 1,323 yards and 11 touchdowns and ran for 530 yards and six TDs as a junior, and seems to just be scratching the surface to his potential for a Dukes' team poised to build on its best season in a decade.
Five can't miss matchups
Week 3 -- Downers Grove South at Downers Grove North: The Trojans have won the last seven meetings with their crosstown rivals, but four of those wins came by 10 points or fewer in what is typically a low-scoring affair. Both programs seem to annually be right around the playoff cutline in the last decade, so banking an early win would behoove both teams, who both also have very difficult Week 1 and Week 2 games.
Week 6 -- Glenbard West at York: The Dukes announced their arrival as a contender in the Silver last season with their 12-10 win at Duchon Field on Max Hansmann's field goal in the last minute -- York's first win over the Hilltoppers since 2007. Glenbard West surely has not forgotten it. This figures to be the first of three huge showdowns in the Silver over the season's last four weeks.
Week 7 -- York at Hinsdale Central: Another rematch of a memorable 2021 game -- the Red Devils last season rallied from 16 points down in the fourth quarter for a 27-23 stunner at York to hand the Dukes their first loss. Both teams have several starters back, namely both quarterbacks -- Matt Vezza for York, Billy Cernugel for Hinsdale Central. The Red Devils have not lost in the Silver the last two seasons, but this will provide a stiff test for the continuation of that streak.
Week 8 -- Willowbrook at York: The best Silver-Gold crossover game pits the five-time defending Gold champion Warriors against a Dukes' team that should contend in the Silver. Not to mention it's a good rivalry between schools separated by less than five miles. York has won the last two meetings by a combined six points.
Week 9 -- Glenbard West at Hinsdale Central: This matchup has been the game of the year in the Silver for the last decade, and with good reason. Either the Hilltoppers or Red Devils have won at least a share of every Silver title since 2008. Hinsdale Central's defense has been the story in winning the last two meetings, allowing a total of seven points. Glenbard West, with a ton of experience back on offense, will be eager to flip the script in a game that figures to decide the Silver title.