2022 season preview: Scouting the Northern Lake County Conference
2021 record: 6-4
Coach: Brian Glashagel
Worth noting: Antioch did not win the conference last year for the first time since it started in 2016. The Sequoits are 39-2 in NLCC play all-time. "We are hungry to win the title back," said Glashagel, whose team's only NLCC loss last year was to league champion Wauconda (24-13). Antioch is sitting in a good spot with some talented returning folks among the four starters back on offense and four on defense. Let's start with 6-5, 220-pound senior tight end-outside linebacker Joey Neumann, a four-year varsity starter and a three-time all-NLCC academic pick, as well as an all-state academic selection. He's committed to South Dakota State as a tight end and had eight Division I offers with some recruiting him at outside backer. "Joey is ranked as a top tight end in the state," Glashagel said. "He's a Division I player on both sides of the ball." The Sequoits also have senior quarterback Quade Moll back. He threw for 994 yards last year. Junior running back Nick Day ran for 833 yards and 6 scores on his way to all-conference honors as a 10th grader. Running back Aiden Lennon also returns, as does the linebacking trio of Aidan Niemczyk, Caleb Nobiling and Ethan Kolloff. "Antioch is always coached well, plays hard, disciplined and tough," Glashagel said. "This has always been our strength and will always be. We are nicely balanced with returning starters and some seniors that got quality playing time last fall, with a talented junior and sophomore class." Glashagel is excited about the skill positions on offense. "Quade is as good a high school quarterback as there is and he's surrounded with some really good weapons in Aiden Lennon, Nick Day, Martin Cohen (sophomore running back), Marshall Gehrke (sophomore wide receiver) and Joey Neumann," he said. "Our skilled offensive players are as good as we have had." Strength and quickness rule the day on defense. "We are incredibly strong and fast," the coach noted. "Our linebacking unit of Aiden, Ethan and Caleb is our Mike Singletary, Wilbur Marshall and Otis Wilson (famed Chicago Bears linebacking duo in the 1980s)."
2021 record: 2-7
Coach: Tim Norwood
Worth noting: Norwood takes over for Chris Robinson and is one of four new head coaches in the league. Top returners on offense for the Bulldogs include junior Rylan Art (QB), seniors Ivan Hernandez (OL-DL) and Yedi Israel (TB) and junior Daymian Longtin (slot-LB). Key players back on defense include seniors Ke'Sean Louramore (DL) and Cameron Lattimore (DL). "We hope that our strengths are to be a physical team on offense that runs the ball well," Norwood said. "Defensively, we hope to play fast and give great effort." Art is back for his senior season under center. "He is one our leaders on the offensive side of the ball," Norwood noted. Louramore, "has had a really strong summer on the defensive line and plays with great speed and effort," Norwood added. Also watch for the name Pryde Mendoza at free safety and tailback. "Pryde is a type of player who can be a difference-maker on each side of the ball," Norwood said.
2021 record: 8-3
Coach: Mike Maloney
Worth noting: The Rams are coming off a 2021 season where they went to the second round of the state playoffs and have some strong pieces returning from that group (4 starters back on offense and 5 on defense). Headlining that group is 6-3, 200-pound senior wideout-safety Kaiden Miller, who is the program's all-time leader in receiving yards (1,097). Senior Jeremiah Almendarez-Poyser (5-9, 155) is the team's leading returning rusher. Junior middle linebacker-running back Marty Jens (5-7, 187) is the top returning tackler on defense. Other key cogs back from a year ago include junior Garrett Guenther (6-0, 175, slot-DB), senior Jaydin Kante (6-0, 290, NG-OG) and sophomore Jonny Sage (6-0, 165, LB-RB). "The overall depth on offense and defense is the best the program has seen in several years," Maloney said. "We have a very fast team with a number of track athletes in key positions. We hope this bolsters our potential for explosive plays." Linebacking is where the most experience resides, Maloney noted, with two-year starter Jens and Sage, in the starting trenches as a freshman in 2021, leading the way. "Our linebacking corps will anchor the defense," Maloney said. "We have tremendous athleticism and coverage capability on the back end. (We) can match any receiver group we may face throughout the year." Maloney is obviously keen on Miller and likes the potential Almendarez-Poyser brings out of the backfield. "Kaiden Miller has the potential to be the best football player on the field in several of our games," Maloney said. "He will be a difference-maker, for sure. Jeremiah could end up the leading rusher in our conference if our inexperienced, but athletic offensive line can produce at a high level." Keep an eye on junior running back-defensive back Alex Carter. "My sleeper pick for most productive offensive player this season," the coach said. "He's a dynamic athlete." Maloney pegs Antioch and Wauconda as NLCC contenders out of the gates. "Don't sleep on the Rams," he said of his team. "We have a puncher's chance at the trophy."
2021 record: 3-6
Coach: Brian Johnson
Worth noting: Johnson is one of four new head coaches patrolling the NLCC sidelines this fall. He takes over a Knights team that has four starters back on offense and six more on the opposite side. Senior quarterback Jacob Donohue is a three-year starter. In 7 games last year, he threw for 1,881 yards and 18 scores, coming off a sophomore year where he threw for 1,492 yards and 20 TDs. "Jacob is a leader and has good rapport with our receivers, who will all be new," Johnson said. "He has an outstanding arm and pocket presence and experience. I am really happy with the offensive line leadership and experience, making the transition to a new offense much easier." Seniors DJ Neely (5-10, 155, WR-DB), Zion Hodges (6-1, 237, LB), Nathan Alfaro (5-10, 225, OL-LB) and Mario Vizzini (5-10, 225, OL-DL) are two-way returning starters, while senior Nik Green (6-2, 265) is a three-year starter on the offensive line at center, and Johnson noted has the potential for being a dominant lineman. "The offensive and defensive lines are all seniors with some experience," Johnson pointed out. Quickness on defense will be another positive for North. "We have quite a few players that are able to run to the ball," Johnson said. "We might not have earth-shattering size, but we have some quickness. We also feel like we have a lockdown corner in Michael Jefferson, which will help out our front seven greatly." Johnson likes Neely's versatility. "DJ is an all-around threat running the ball, receiving, receiving kicks and playing defense," he said.
2021 record: 5-5
Coach: Jason Ellerman
Worth noting: The Eagles were one of four NLCC teams to make the playoffs in 2021. Now, Ellerman takes the controls of the program and inherits a squad that has 3 starters back on offense and only two on defense. Top returning Lakes players include Tyson Dewey (6-2, 170, Sr., WR-DB), Max Bausch (5-10, 180, Sr., QB), Matt Rytina (6-0, 165, DB-WR) and Drew Schmidt (6-1, 195, OL-DL). Ellerman likes Lakes' ability to run the ball in a physical manner and use play-action passing to create explosive plays, plus the ability to use its RPO package to get players the ball in space. On defense, Ellerman likes the team's ability to communicate, get off blocks, track ball carriers and tackle. "We will strive to be fundamentally sound and aggressive," he said. Ellerman noted three main tenets he is emphasizing this season "We will always celebrate or pick each other up after each play," he said. The other two include: "Just be a good person and follow the golden rule, 'Treat others how you want to be treated,' and "Just be tough mentally, physically and emotionally." Also keep an eye on senior running back and inside linebacker Amir Al Hindi (5-10, 180), Ellerman noted.
2021 record: 0-9
Coach: Wilton Hill
Worth noting: The Warhawks have not won a game since the last game of the 2021 COVID spring season and scored 52 points in 2021. "We are trying to get back to our brand of football after battling through these past two rough seasons," Hill said. "We're looking to be competitive and hopefully shock a few teams." North Chicago has 4 starters back on either side of the ball, including the likes of Bryce Turner (6-2, 160, Sr., DB-WR), Terrell Turner (6-1, 205, Sr., LB-TE), Ellis Usher (5-8, 140, Sr., CB-SB), Shadon Mays (6-2, 350, DL), Marquell Maggett (5-8, 145, S-SB) and Julian Chacon (5-9, 190, DL-OL). Hill said freshman Jalin Strowder (6-2, 355, DL-OL) has a ton of potential up front, while Usher athleticism, he added, will stand out on both sides of the ball. Hill added Terrell Turner can make plays on both sides of the football. "I like the competitive drive of the underclassmen," Hill said. "We also have strength and athleticism on both sides of the ball on the line, and versatile and athletic skill guys."
2021 record: 2-7
Coach: Scott Blecha
Worth noting: The Panthers graduated 26 seniors or 66 percent of its 2021 varsity roster, "so we will be extremely young this year," Blecha said. Back for Round Lake are seniors Anthony Bishop (5-8, 153, RB-DB), Raul Casco (5-11, 220, OL-DL), Easton Nixon (5-11, 135, WR-DB), Rigo Tapia (5-7, 130, WR-DB) and Saul Ugarte (5-9, 215, OL-LB), along with sophomore Kevin Johnson (5-10, 153, WR-DB). Each side of the ball has 3 starters each back. Blecha said the squad will lean on Ugarte's experience as a three-year varsity starter on the offensive line and captain. "Saul will be the leader of a young O-line crew that has shown promise throughout the summer and intends to make their mark this season," he said. "He will play offensive line and linebacker and looks to be a force on both sides of the ball." Bishop and Tapia are also back as playmakers, "while others will step into supporting roles to get the offense going," Blecha said. On defense, Isaac Jackson and Darius Smith, Blecha said, are ready to fill the void at linebacker and lead the defense. Captain and leading tackler Mario Jimenez was among the large graduation exit. Johnson returns at corner after starting as a freshman. Nixon and Tapia will fill out the secondary "as a group that is ready to disrupt the passing game," Bleach said. Bishop was the team's third-leading tackler last year, and was a top five receiver and running back on the stat pages.
2021 record: 10-1
Coach: Chris Prostka
Worth noting: Prostka is one of those four new head coaches in the conference and is at the helm of a Bulldogs team that in 2021 became the first non-Antioch team to win the NLCC title since the conference was formed. Wauconda has 5 starters back on offense and six more on defense, including Nick Smith (6-0, 185, Sr., RB-LB), Tyler Schmidt (6-1, 230, Sr., OL-DL), Jake Becker (6-4, 240, Sr., OL-DL), Chase Groelle (6-3, 190, Sr., WR-OLB), Jackson Ori (6-2, 190, Sr., WR-DB), Broke Pfeiffer (6-1, 170, Jr., WR-DB) and Connor Vanselow (6-0, 175, Jr., RB-OLB). "Our numbers are up from the previous two seasons, so our depth will be a benefit this year," Prostka said. "Our senior class knows what it takes to compete and be successful at the varsity level. The last two seasons combined we were 15-2. Our players want to keep that level of success going and work to go further in the playoffs." Smith had 15 tackles for loss last season and was an all-NLCC pick. Pfeiffer had 5 interceptions as a sophomore in 2021, while Vanselow returns after running for 8 scores. "We have a good balance on offense and we have playmakers at all positions," Prostka said. "We have size on the line and strong runners in the backfield. Our receivers are tall and tough to tackle. They also enjoy their roles blocking in the run game." Prostka noted the Bulldogs have a good amount of experience back on defense, including all-NLCC performers in Schmidt and Smith, "and the majority of our secondary played significant minutes last season," he said. Junior Zac Johnson is competing for the starting quarterback position, playing defensive back, punting, kicking and kicking off. "Zac is doing a lot of things for us," Prostka said.
Five players to watch
Jacob Donohue (Grayslake North): Three-year starter at quarterback for the Knights. Threw for more than 3,300 yards and 38 TDs in his first two varsity seasons.
Kaiden Miller (Grayslake Central): This 6-3, 200-pounder is Central's all-time leader in receiving yards with 1,097. Most certainly a player to watch in Lake County this season.
Joey Neumann (Antioch): 6-5, 220-pound senior tight end-outside linebacker is a four-year varsity starter and is committed to South Dakota State after fielding eight Division I offers.
Nick Smith (Wauconda): Returning all-NLCC performer at linebacker registered 15 tackles for loss for the defending loop champions a year ago.
Saul Ugarte (Round Lake): Panthers coach Scott Blecha loves the leadership abilities of Ugarte, a three-year varsity starter on the offensive line and a captain.
Five games to watch
Sept 9: Lakes at Antioch: No time is wasted in kicking off the NLCC slate with a bang with this annual neighborhood rivalry game.
Sept. 16: Grayslake Central at Grayslake North: The battle of Grayslake -- pretty self-explanatory.
Sept. 30: Wauconda at Antioch: Wauconda dethroned Antioch atop the NLCC last season and you can bet a million bucks if you bet a dollar that this is circled on both team's calendars in red ink.
Oct. 13: Antioch at Grayslake Central: Rams coach Mike Maloney said don't sleep on his crew. This could quite the late-season, Week 8 game.
Oct. 21: Wauconda at Grayslake North: Could this Week 9 game have playoff implications for both clubs?