Star Taylor aims big at Geneva while St. Charles East eyes turnaround
Talyn Taylor's end game isn't close to being finished.
The Geneva junior wideout, currently rated as Illinois' No. 3 recruit in the Class of 2025 by 247 Sports, has lofty football goals beyond high school and college.
For now, though, Taylor is keeping an eye on the present in front of him and enjoying the ride that comes along.
"I'm not done. I still have a lot more to go," Taylor said during Geneva's first official football practice on Monday. "My end goal, I'm trying to make it to [the NFL] so I can't stop now. I can't stop now. Stopping now? I can't really do that. I got to keep pushing for my family; I got to keep pushing for everything. All these guys [motioning toward the team], these guys are my family."
Taylor holds the inherent prestige that comes with 21 total scholarship offers ranking from Georgia, Alabama, Michigan, USC and Notre Dame holds their own weight. The 45 catches, 660 receiving yards and eight touchdowns Taylor put up as a sophomore last season certainly supports that attention.
Finding further self-motivation isn't difficult to conjure, particularly when Taylor knows opponents aspire to shut him down on the field at any cost.
"That definitely does [motivate]," Taylor said. "That's happening a lot ... you've got to stick your head into the ground and just keep working; just keep grinding."
Having Taylor for another season with second-year starting quarterback Nate Stempowski bodes well for a Vikings team that is looking to qualify for the postseason for the third season in a row.
Taylor is also expected to play situationally at defensive back.
"I just see a super human," Stempowski said. "He's just crazy talented with amazing hands. He's got a good height to him and he's just one athletic dude. He can ball out."
"He can be a funny guy in the huddle sometimes, but when we get out of the huddle, he's pretty serious. On his routes, he's very sharp with his cuts. He's got some crisp routes. I know if he's running a route I really like, he's going to be open. He's just always a guy I can just, I don't like anything, I can look his way and he's going to be getting the ball."
Stempowski completed 56% of his passes last season, finished with 17 passing touchdowns and 1,332 passing yards and averaged 24 rushing yards per game.
" ... We've been connecting all summer. We have a great chemistry," Taylor said. "We've been together for two years [already]. I played sophomore level with him when I was a freshman ... having him as a quarterback his senior year and my junior year, this will be our biggest year yet. He's grown a lot. His IQ has gotten a lot better in the passing game."
" ... I'd say [the connection has] grown a ton. We're going to be ready to attack the season together," Stempowski said. "He knows I have his back and he's got mine. No matter what happens, we're good to go."
Beyond Taylor, the Vikings also feature junior running back Troy Velez, who had 632 rushing yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore. Sophomore wideout Dylan Reyes, who had 96 receiving yards last year, is another complementary weapon alongside junior Finn Weppner and senior tight end Michael Loberg.
Stempowski doesn't "look too deep" into stats for his preps football career. Instead, he focuses on leading his team and doing all he can for a chance to compete for a deep postseason run. Add in his offseason work improving his pocket presence, footwork and decision-making, Stempowski is vying for this season to be the best he can make it.
"For myself, I got pretty high standards, but I just want to go out there my last season and be 'The Dude' and lead us to state [to] the best of my ability," Stempowski said.
Saints hoping to rebound:
Turning the page on a 2022 season that began with promise and ended with a seven-game losing streak is a process that began for St. Charles East months ago.
As the first official day of football practice opened on Monday, the progress moving forward toward improvement can now really start to be shown.
At the forefront in shaping that immediate future are team captains -- senior left tackle Bodey McCaslin, senior quarterback Mac Paul, senior linebacker Charlie McArdle, senior safety Gavin Connolly and senior wideout Charlie Bolsoni.
"It all started in winter. We had a great offseason lift," McCaslin said. "I just think we're ahead of where we were at last summer at this point. I think we just worked a little harder and we came together more as a team more than we did last year. I think we're just a little farther ahead than what we started out as last year."
A varsity team-wide 24-hour lock-in consisting of film work, two practices, meetings, team bonding and other activities at St. Charles East earlier this summer is an example of moving the team needle forward.
"As captains, and as a full team, we get together and we meet. We write everything on a board that we want," McCaslin said. "Our main goal, little goals throughout the day [and] how we really want to organize our year."
Those bench marks and goals got down to the nitty-gritty of how pre-practice is conducted and focusing on the "little stuff."
That list starts with players showing up to practice early, having their helmet on and running on the field together. The winning, in time, comes when it all adds together.
"I feel like last year, we were all [saying and focusing on] 'We want to win state, we want to do really good in the playoffs, we want to win [the DuKane] Conference,'" McCaslin said. "We just had two really big goals and we brought it down to [manageable, controllable] goals."
McCaslin is going to be book-ended by right tackle and senior Gideon Kopalchick. The rest of the interior line is still being worked out personnel-wise. Paul, who started four games at quarterback last season, is now the full-time starter and is ready to take control of the wheel.
"100% ready [for my chance]," Paul said. "That's the kind of stuff we prepared for since I was a freshman getting ready for this season, so definitely ready."
"I'm really liking the connection between him, the O-Line and the running backs, it's all really good," McCaslin said. "He's having a great summer ... communication, he's really good at communicating to the O-line. When he's in the huddle, we know what he's saying. He's smart. He understands the checks and all that."
Improving his efficiency as a passer and recognizing coverages was top of the list in growth opportunities heading into offseason work. Gaining rapport with wide receivers, especially in the wake of graduations from Blake Schuette and Mason Tousignant, is another. Sophomores Gavin Matejko and Sheko Gjokaj are expected to supplement Bolsoni as top options.
"I wouldn't say it's necessarily replacing [Schuette and Tousignant]. I think we've got guys that are at that level," McCaslin said. "Blake and Mason were awesome receivers, but I'm not concerned. We've got Charlie that's been with us. He was a great receiver last year and we've got guys who are stepping up for sure, so It's really no concern."
-- Jake Bartelson