Football previews 2023: Scouting the West Suburban Conference
2022 record: 2-7
Coach: Chris Bazant
Worth noting: The Blazers' two wins in 2022 were their most since 2019, but still added up to the program's eighth consecutive losing season. Bazant, entering his fourth season as head coach, said Addison Trail is still trying to recover and build up participation levels since the COVID pandemic. Due to that, several guys will play both sides of the ball. The Blazers do bring back a solid group along the offensive line of seniors Cristian Malvaez, Marlon Lozano-Pina, Giovani San Roman, Sol Bracamontes and Adrian Arroyo. Addison Trail is retooling elsewhere on offense. Tyler Paraschiv, Memphis Pena, Angel Villarreal, Martin Duarte, and Damari Jones have been competing all summer at running back. Senior Jack Holleman and juniors Casey Carlson, Dom Renc, and Raja Corhn will also be key pieces on the Blazers' offense. Defensively, Addison Trail will be led by linebackers Malvaez and Martin Duarte. "This is an aggressive group with a lot to prove this season on defense and are ready to go out and test themselves," Bazant said.
Downers Grove South
2022 record: 6-4
Coach: Mark Molinari
Worth noting: The Mustangs last season recovered from an 0-3 start to win their last six regular season games and first West Suburban Gold title since 2013. Downers Grove South's first four games are again a bear, but in a change in conference scheduling will all be at home this year as part of six total home games. Downers Grove South returns six starters on offense with two linemen that also played extensively, and five starters on defense. The strength of the Mustangs' offense will be its running game, with 6-foot-7, 285-pound Army recruit Josh Manecke and fellow two-year returning starters Joey Price, Hunter Peterson on the line and two-year starter Matt Lapacek at tight end blocking for three-year starting running back Deon Davis. Senior Will Potter takes over at quarterback after starting the last two seasons at safety, with slot receiver Chris Williams projected to be his top target. Downers Grove South's defense brings back experience at each level. Ryker Dudley is a returning starter on the line, Lapacek and Gavin Powels at linebacker and Dylan Spencer and Jack Schoenike at defensive back. Ethan Onusatis is a senior to watch up front. Lapacek and RJ Samuels are two state-qualifying wrestlers expected to anchor the linebacking corps. Others expected to contribute defensively are senior Dylan Vogt, junior Coen Godenschwager and senior Connor Kelly.
2022 record: 4-5
Coach: Mike Barry
Worth noting: The Hornets are coming off their second consecutive 4-5 season, five years removed from their last winning season and playoff appearance in 2018. Barry said the Hornets are looking forward to getting back on the field with five returning starters on offense and seven on defense. There is plenty of speed and big-play potential if they execute. Key returners include all-conference wide receiver/outside linebacker Nate Fundator, wide receiver/defensive back Sam Schuler, running back Mikey Jefferson, linebacker Alec Miller, center Henry Royce, athlete Mike Ballard, guard TJ Brennan, tackle Ryder McMurray, guard Davon Williams, defensive back Denzel Davis and defensive end Sam Morgan. Newcomers to watch include quarterback Langston Love, linebacker Quinn Yurkovich and running back Apollo Cobb. "Being the smallest school in the West Suburban at around 1,300 students creates challenges with depth so staying healthy is the key moving forward week to week," Barry said.
2022 record: 2-7
Coach: Tom Cerasani
Worth noting: The Eagles are coming off their fifth consecutive losing season, but Cerasani, heading into his 19th season as head coach, noted that Leyden had a chance to win in the fourth quarter of six of their losses last year. Leyden did graduate several key players, notably quarterback Ethan Corral, who set a program single-season passing record, and Mario Reyes, who set the single-season receiving record. Fortunately, the Eagles have gained much more depth this season at all positions with four starters returning on both offense and defense. Senior Anthony Falco is making the move from defensive end to quarterback. Senior Bryan Gonzalez returns as a two-way starter at receiver and strong safety. Seniors Darterrion Garner and Xavier Guillen return as Leyden's top linemen. The Eagles will have three sophomores in the starting lineup with Dominic Ganir and Jacob Ganir starting at inside linebacker and right guard respectively, and Tamarrion Garner, the younger brother of Darterrion, starting at outside linebacker. With several juniors also starting, the Eagles will be young and will have to learn and get better as the season progresses.
2022 record: 3-6
Coach: Bob Organ
Worth noting: The Mustangs posted their second consecutive 3-6 season in 2022, the program's most successful two-year stretch in over a decade. Morton returns five starters on offense and four on defense. Organ expects big things out of junior defensive lineman/offensive lineman/tight end Ulley Mancilla, all-conference as a sophomore. There are similar high hopes for junior linebacker Julian Richard, who started for Morton as a sophomore. Tyler Nichols, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound tight end/linebacker/defensive end, is a returning two-way starter that Organ said is being recruited by several schools and also runs basketball and track. Other returning starters include senior defensive back Danny Torres, receiver Michael Barnes and running back Jerimiah Jones, a complete back who can run, catch and block with great vision and speed. Among the newcomers, junior quarterback/receiver Deven Hall and sophomore quarterback Jaleel Whindfield are in competition for the starting quarterback job after a strong summer. "The boys have been going hard all summer," Organ said. "Our mantra is MAD -- Make a Difference, at home, in school and football. We are very excited for this upcoming season."
2022 record: 0-9
Coach: Aaron Peppers
Worth noting: Peppers is going into the fourth season of his second stint as Proviso East head coach. The Pirates have lost 14 consecutive games dating back to the fall of 2021. The program's last winning season and playoff appearance came in 2008, also with Peppers as coach. Leading Proviso East's returning starers are Jaiden Gary, a 6-foot-7, 340-pound senior all-conference lineman, and Jaylan Madison, a senior all-conference safety. Other starters back include junior tight end Jerry Johnson, wide receiver/defensive back Javon Richardson, senior safety Clarence Wellington, senior linebacker Antoine Malone and senior wide receiver Milo Gittings. Top newcomers include junior running back/defensive back Darron Hammond, sophomore wide receiver/defensive back Jarret Swift and junior wide receiver/defensive back Jayden Wilson.
2022 record: 5-5
Coach: Nick Hildreth
Worth noting: The Warriors last year had their 29-game win streak in the West Suburban Gold snapped in a loss to Downers Grove South, did not win the league for the first time since 2016 and had their fewest wins in a full regular season since 2015. Still, Willowbrook made its seventh consecutive playoff appearance. The Warriors did so with at times 10 sophomores playing varsity, trial by fire for youth which could portend success the next two seasons. Leading 10 returning starters back on offense and nine on defense is senior quarterback Arthur Palicki, a four-year varsity starter. He'll be protected by a young offensive line that will start five juniors, an initial concern of Hildreth's. Other key returning starters include senior running back/defensive lineman DaeVeon Madison, junior receiver/defensive back Jordan Pate, senior receiver/defensive back Kenyon Rhodes, junior offensive lineman John Koterba, senior running back Luca Parato and junior defensive lineman Micah Lewis. A young player to watch is sophomore receiver/defensive back Otis Powell.
Downers Grove North
2022 record: 7-4
Coach: Joe Horeni
Worth noting: The Trojans last season reached the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2019 with the program's most wins since making back-to-back quarterfinal appearances in 2012 and 2013. Six starters return, led by senior linebacker and Iowa State recruit Cael Brezina. Noah Battle, a senior running back and safety and a third-year starter, will lead a young offense after putting up 981 total yards and 11 total touchdowns as a junior, with 25 tackles defensively. Sophomore quarterback Owen Lansu is a player with star potential already drawing a great deal of recruiting interest from Power Five conference schools. He'll be throwing to a group of young receivers that includes junior Charlie Cruse and sophomore Oliver Thulin. The Trojans will, at least early, lean on its defense that has more experience back. Senior linebacker Jimmy Janicki, a Troy baseball recruit, recorded 100 tackles (55 solo) with five sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions as a junior. Senior defensive back Owen Thulin had 44 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass breakups last year. Other starters back are senior linebacker Teddy Griffin and senior offensive lineman Luke Klempir. "We are looking forward to seeing our leaders step up and support our younger players in one of the toughest conferences in the state," Horeni said.
2022 record: 11-2
Coach: Chad Hetlet
Worth noting: The Hilltoppers return seven starters on defense, significant experience and talent that Glenbard West will need to lean on early with just three starters back on offense. Despite that youth, Hetlet said the Hilltoppers' offense is as skilled as it's been in a while, led by senior running back Julius Ellens. The four-year varsity starter, 2022 West Suburban Silver Offensive MVP and all-state running back rushed for 1,685 yards and 29 touchdowns last year, also caught 19 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns and is one of the best playmakers Hetlet has ever had at Glenbard West. He holds eight scholarship offers including Kansas State, Air Force, Army and Navy. Senior running back Rhett Pierce is a three-year varsity starter, but Glenbard West graduated quite a bit from what was one of its best offensive lines. Defensively, senior linebacker Ben Starmann was second on the team in tackles last year and senior linebacker Ben Cesario was third in tackles. Senior defensive end Danny Coffee is a three-year starter. Other starters back include senior offensive tackle Erik Lonvick, senior linebacker Eli Limouris, senior cornerback Joey Campanella, senior safety Will Meyers and junior cornerback Mason Ellens. Senior receiver Aidan Murphy started at cornerback last year and Hetlet noted is a very explosive offensive player, while senior tight end Ryan Segebarth played a significant amount last year. Glenbard West's junior class is 16-2, with both of those losses coming to Marist -- who the Hilltoppers host in Week 1.
2022 record: 4-5
Coach: Brian Griffin
Worth noting: The Red Devils, which had won spring and fall 2021 Silver titles, are coming off an uncharacteristic season in 2022, a 4-5 finish the program's fewest wins since 2010, snapping a streak of 10 straight playoff appearances. Griffin said this year will be a year of unknowns, with very few full-time starters returning but several players back with some sort of varsity experience. Senior receiver Carter Contreras had 10 catches for 194 yards last season, and will likely be catching passes this fall from younger brother Riley Contreras, a sophomore who received some varsity experience last year. Other starters back include junior Ryan McGarry, senior Mark Ortiz and junior Eisa Salee along the offensive line, and senior linebacker Magnus Kumskis, who had 22 tackles, five for loss, and two sacks last season. Newcomers to watch include junior athlete, Reilly Anderson Athlete, senior defensive lineman BK Arslan, junior linebacker/defensive back Finn Boggs, senior linebacker Dom Fordon, senior linebacker Michael Linn, junior receiver Kelan McInerney, sophomore offensive lineman Gene Riordan, senior defensive back Austin Segers and junior offensive lineman Owen Stamer. The schedule only got tougher with Bolingbrook replacing Proviso East as a Week 2 opponent. "Time will tell how our junior and senior groups merge to form one team," Griffin said. "We know we have an incredibly tough schedule -- our conference is as good top to bottom as it's ever been and our nonconference games are challenging as well. We are excited to see how we grow together as a team. We will have several young athletes who will get their shot at Friday nights."
2022 record: 9-3
Coach: Jon Beutjer
Worth noting: The arrow is pointed up in La Grange, with 13 starters returning from a Class 8A quarterfinalist and Lyons team with the most wins since 2010. Senior QB Ryan Jackson, a third-year varsity starter, is a threat with both his arm and his legs and threw for 26 touchdowns as a junior with just three interceptions. He'll be throwing to returning all-conference receivers Noah Pfafflin, a Colgate recruit, and Travis Stamm and speedster Jack McQueeney. Eddie Tuerk, an Illinois recruit and four-year varsity starter, will anchor both lines. Bookend tackle Tyler Chambers played in a reserve role last year with the middle of Lyons' O-line occupied by returning junior Cooper Komsthoeft. Dylan Rickman, Danny Carroll and Christian Wojtulewicz will make up a running back by committee.
Defensively, Tuerk will be joined up front by seniors Kellen Knopp, Luke Wehling and a host of newcomers including sophomore Roman Sosnovyy. The linebacking core welcomes back two-way starter Pfafflin to go along with seniors Ian Gamino and Dylan Rickman. Manning the secondary will be cornerbacks Caleb Greer and Danny Montasano, and safeties Jack Cheney, McQueeney and Stamm. "This team is senior laden across the field and will look to build off of last season's successful campaign to compete for a West Suburban Conference championship and IHSA state title," Beutjer said.
Oak Park-River Forest
2022 record: 4-5
Coach: John Hoerster
Worth noting: Oak Park-River Forest has posted 4-5 records in its last three nine-game seasons, its last playoff appearance coming in 2018 -- but 13th-year head coach Hoerster and the Huskies are optimistic they can make a return. OPRF started last season 2-0 but struggled mightily in the West Suburban Silver. The Huskies must replace three-year starting quarterback Jack Gooch and dynamic receiver Ryan Martin. Top returning players include senior offensive lineman Kaden Garland, senior running back/linebacker Sam Gray, senior defensive back/running back Khalil Nichols and senior defensive lineman Jeremiah Williams. Newcomers to watch include sophomore athlete Jeremiah Jenkins, junior defensive end Emmett Kennedy, sophomore quarterback/defensive back Johnny Nelson, receiver/defensive back Mikee Vielehr and junior receiver/defensive back Matt Winkelhake. "I'm feeling great about the team, their strengths are energy and a willingness to learn," Hoerster said. "Our conference is really deep, well-coached, and competitive. I could see any number of teams competing for the title."
2022 record: 3-6
Coach: Scottie Ware
Worth noting: The Panthers' 2022 season started promising with back-to-back wins, but six consecutive losses put a damper on things. Still, the three wins marked the program's most since Proviso West's last playoff appearance in 2012. Unfortunately, the Panthers return just one starter with no newcomers, and have 35 players in the program at all levels combined. "We need to combine with Proviso East," said Ware, going into his third season. "We have no numbers!"
2022 record: 12-1
Coach: Mike Fitzgerald
Worth noting: The Dukes are coming off a historic season, the first 9-0 regular season in the 102-year history of the program and a Class 8A semifinal appearance. York graduated quite a bit of talent from that team, notably quarterback Matt Vezza, but Fitzgerald noted they had a lot of kids get experience last year and the senior class has been very successful throughout their high school careers. Senior linebacker Cole Ostendorf, the West Suburban Silver Defensive Player of the Year and a Class 8A All-Stater last year, anchors the defense after recording 90 tackles, 27 for loss, and 11.5 sacks as a junior. Defensive lineman Joe Reiff, who had 19 tackles and 2.5 sacks last year as a sophomore, is one to watch. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior holds offers from Notre Dame, Iowa, Northwestern and Cincinnati. Another senior linebacker, Joey Maucieri, had 53, five tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season. Returning on offense is senior Jake Melion, who ran for 700 yards and 14 touchdowns last season splitting time at running back, senior receiver and Illinois State recruit Luke Mailander, who had 32 catches for 521 yards and five TDs last year, and senior OL Gavin Honken and Colin Cushing. Senior Sean Winton is one of three quarterbacks who are vying for the starting job. York's schedule got significantly tougher by adding nonconference games with Glenbrook South and Nazareth the first two weeks. "We have worked extremely hard this offseason to keep the momentum we have going in our program," Fitzgerald said.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Julius Ellens, Glenbard West, sr., RB -- Ellens is one of the best skill-position players Chad Hetlet has ever had at Glenbard West. That's saying something. A revamped offensive line in front of Ellens is a question mark, but expect another huge season from the four-year varsity starter.
Owen Lansu, Downers Grove North, so., QB -- There is a lot of hype about this first-year varsity starter, with several Power Five conference schools already showing interest. Trojans' fans no doubt can't wait to see him under the lights.
Cole Ostendorf, York, sr., LB -- The West Suburban Silver Defensive Player of the Year as a junior, Ostendorf is the rock for the Dukes' defense as they try to remain at the top of the mountain in the Silver.
Arthur Palicki, Willowbrook, sr., QB -- Not too often that a high school football team is piloted by a four-year varsity quarterback. Palicki will look to lead the Warriors back to the top of the Gold.
Eddie Tuerk, Lyons Township, sr., OL/DL -- Illinois recruit is one of the state's top prospects in the Class of 2024, a four-year starter. He'll lead the way as the Lions continue their rise in the Silver and Class 8A.