Football previews 2023: Scouting the Upstate Eight Conference
2022 record: 4-5
Coach: Milan Vuckovich, 2nd year
Worth noting: Vuckovich expects certain things from his players. "We are going to continue to work hard, compete our butts off, and put our teammates first," said the coach. "These players have completely bought into this philosophy and leaders have been emerging throughout the roster across all levels." The Hawks' top returning players are seniors Justin Ibegbulem (DL/TE), Junior Duenez (DL/FB), Josh Eckelberry (DB/RB), Marco Incandela (DB/WR), Jacob Caradine (DB/WR), Matthew Teruel (LB/TE), Gio Nguyen (LB/QB), Damian Alba (DL/OL), Blake McCluskey (DL/OL), and juniors Sam Mancilla (DL/OL), Donald Hubbard (DL/TE), and Josh Cruz (DB/WR). "We have a good number of players returning with some good varsity snaps under their belts," said Vuckovich. "We feel that we are very balanced on both sides of the ball." Top newcomers include seniors Ivan Ramon (DB/WR), Danh Nguyen (DL/OL), Aiden Fulbright (DB/WR), and juniors Ben Sulma (DL/TE), Oskar Nowak (DL/OL), and Dimitre Petrasiunas (WR/DB). "We need to keep working and fine tuning the intricate aspects of the game that separate the good teams from the great teams."
2022 record: 4-5
Coach: Nick Kukuc, 6th year
Worth noting: The Tomcats have made marked improvement since Nick Kukuc took over as head coach 6 years ago. East Aurora has amassed a 15-27 record in the past 5 seasons. Over the previous 6 seasons, the Tomcats won just 4 of 54 games. While improved play is nice, Kukuc is ready for his team to take the next step -- securing its first state playoff appearance in 40 years (1983). "Last year, we came up short of the playoffs, finishing 4-5," said Kukuc. "Our goal is to clean up the close games and make our way into the postseason." That could well happen, thanks to the return of several players, including senior QB Amado Martinez, senior receivers Kenneth Cooley and Adam Tavizon, senior running back/linebacker Montana Calderon and junior running back/linebacker Jeremiah Brown. "The ability to make explosive plays on offense should be one of our strengths," said Kukuc. Also back are seniors Arnold Walker (DE), Ismael Bobadilla (OL), Leonardo Dealba (OL/DL), and Erick Mendez (DL). "We have several returners on the defensive side of the ball that made big plays for us last season," said Kukuc. The Tomcats open their season against Glenbard South. "We need to take care of the ball offensively and secure points in the red zone," added Kukuc.
2022 record: 3-6
Coach: Anthony Mason, 9th year
Worth noting: Coming off back-to-back 3-6 campaigns, the Maroons are looking for a couple more victories in 2023. "We are always looking to move to the next level in the state of Illinois," said Mason, now in his 9th season at the helm. "Right now, we view ourselves as a level 3 team that will get 3-4 wins each year. We want to be a level 4 team that knows they will get in the playoffs every year." Elgin returns seniors Gabe Blaha (OL/DL), Aramys Lopez (OL/DL), Lamyni Spates (RB/DB), Fabian Ramirez (RB/DB), and juniors Adrian Jackson (OT) and Robert Capuzi (C). Leading the list of newcomers are juniors Julian Hernandez (Ath), Gerardo Depaz (Ath), and TJ Singson (WR/DB). "Gerardo was a tackle last year and has been an offensive lineman all his football life," said Mason. "This year, he's moving to tight end and wide receiver as he has slimmed down and worked like no other this offseason to be the best he can be. I am very interested to see how he excels this season and next, as he is a junior looking to make waves in the recruiting world." Elgin's schedule includes its first 5 games against teams that combined for a 12-33 mark a year ago. The Maroons' last 4 games are against teams that went 32-9 in 2022.
2022 record: 2-7
Coach: Shane McNally, 1st year
Worth noting: The Bison have a first-year head coach in Shane McNally -- and a need for additional numbers. "Due to the transition of head coaches, our numbers are down for the varsity level, but the work ethic is outstanding and should mitigate any depth issues we have," said McNally. Seniors Jordan Wilson (TE/DL), Gabriel Salgado (C), Jordan McDougal (RB/DB), juniors Nathan Stewart (QB), Thomas Klos (OL/DL), and Nick Ohanion (RB/LB) head the list of returning players, while sophomore Omar Diaz (RB/LB) factors in as a top varsity newcomer. "Talent across the board is very promising, but the players' work ethic is what is the strength of the team," said McNally. "They will not be outworked and should provide for a very promising season." The goals are high for the Bison. "We expect to go into every game and compete until the final whistle," the coach added. "We have every belief that come late October we will be in the playoff hunt and fielding a very competitive football team."
2022 record: 8-2 overall, 8-1 in UEC
Coach: John Walters, 12th year
Worth noting: A second-place conference finisher a year ago, the Rams return loads of talent as they hope to dethrone South Elgin atop the UEC standings. "We are returning 5 defensive starters and 7 offensive starters, including 3 all-conference players," said Walters, who has led the Rams to 4 straight state playoff appearances. The Rams return a pair of all-UEC linebackers from a squad that recorded 5 shutouts last year in Augustus Winkler (5-11, 215) and Blake Salvino (6-2, 205), as well as a Division I secondary recruit -- defensive back Eric McClain (5-11, 180). Offensively, Salvino saw some time at quarterback last season, and he will be joined by veterans Nick Dillon (OL/DL), Dan Zlatonov (OL/DE), Chris Monk (OL), Jesus Vasquez (OL), Aaron Dotson (OLB), Gio Brusca (S/WR), Matt Larson (RB), and McClain (WR). Amonte Cook (WR), Chris Renford (WR), Cooper Collins (OL/DL), Stevyn Fox (S), and Elias Morales (OL). Defensively, the Rams face the large task of replacing 3 scholarship players on the defensive line. Glenbard East figures to be tested early against 2022 playoff foes Larkin and South Elgin.
2022 record: 7-3 overall, 7-2 in UEC
Coach: Ryan Crissey, 9th year
Worth noting: The Raiders possess two of the most dangerous players in the Upstate Eight -- senior WR/DB/Punter Cam Williams and senior quarterback Michael Champagne. Williams, a 6-3, 195-pounder committed to Notre Dame, caught 47 passes for 1,022 yards (102.3 yards per game) and 13 touchdowns last season, while also intercepting a pair of passes for TDs. Champagne, who has several Division III offers from Mount Union, Wisconsin-Platteville, Carleton, Middlebury, Trinity and Amherst, and a Division II offer from Minnesota-Duluth, passed for 1,795 yards and 29 touchdowns with just 2 interceptions, and rushed for 203 yards and 3 TDs in 2022 when the Raiders reached the Class 5A state playoffs before a 48-22 first-round loss to eventual champion Nazareth. Other returnees include Anthony Colby (WR/DB), Zach Hyzy (WR/LB), Justin Olague (OL/DL), Danny Langner (OL/DL), Justin Jones (DB), and Jacob Garnett (K/P). Crissey expects the team's strengths to be athleticism, team speed, physical play, strong team bond and leadership. "The expectation is to be in contention for an Upstate Eight Conference championship and qualify for the playoffs," said Crissey, who has guided the Raiders to 7 straight postseason appearances (not counting Covid-shortened 2020 campaign). Top newcomers include Saif Kokoszka (OL/DL), Jack Anderson (OL/DL), Christian Hill (OL/DL), Johnny Baldauf (WR/DB), Cecil Tousant (OL/DL), Ari Ioannou (LB), Tawain Davis (RB/DB), and Joe Villa (WR/LB).
2022 record: 6-4 overall, 6-3 in UEC
Coach: Vincent Ray, 1st year
Worth noting: Ray becomes the Royals' fifth head coach in 7 years and looks to continue where the team left off as a back-to-back state playoff qualifier. "I look to build on the recent success that the Larkin football program has had the past two seasons," said Ray. "This summer, we focused on building trust with the staff, players, and in developing our schemes." While Larkin, which won its last 5 regular-season games a year ago, graduated a pair of mainstays in all-UEC Chevelle Clements (St. Xavier) and Hector Flores (Aurora), the cupboard is far from bare. All-conference players Erick Myrick (WR/DB), Jalen Miller (RB/LB), and Kevin Malone (RB/LB) return along with honorable mention selections Nate Gardner (OL), Diyonnes King (TE/DE) and Michael Bresnan (WR/DB). Also back are senior offensive linemen Angell Santana, Jorge Ambris, senior receiver/defensive back Jaheim Vincent and junior quarterback Tizairian Johnson-Williams. The list of newcomers includes juniors Darion Shipman (TE/DE), Luis Zepeda (TE/DE), Donald Clark (WR/DB), and sophomores Iain Goetz (OL) and Julius Yandell (QB). "I believe we have an extremely talented football team that has yet to unlock its full potential," said Ray. "My experience is that fostering strong relationships leads to buy-in with the team's vision, standards and goals."
2022 record: 11-0 overall, 9-0 in UEC
Coach: Dragan Teonic, 6th year
Worth noting: South Elgin enters the 2023 campaign looking to extend several impressive stat lines -- 4 consecutive conference championships, 19 shutouts, a 36-3 mark over the last 4 years with 3 straight Class 8A second-round playoff appearances, a 24-game conference winning streak (dating back to October, 2019), and a 20-game home field winning streak (last home loss in October, 2018). A year ago, the Storm compiled an 11-0 record after second-round playoff foe Maine South forfeited 9 wins from the 2022 season. The Storm must replace graduated standouts Michael Tringali (College of DuPage), Kyle Steinhofer, Mason Montgomery (College of DuPage), and current senior QB Jake Sullivan (transferred to Marmion). Returning offensive starters include all-UEC offensive lineman Tommy Roath, wide receiver Kyle Corbin, Lucas Noworol, running back Ari Kravis, and junior tight end Ishmael George. Seniors Shawn Clausen (FS), Noworol (LB), and junior Jayden Hartley (DL) are back on defense. Other returning contributors are seniors Joey Cronin (OL/DL), Bryan Cortez (K), and juniors Mo Hanif (OL/DL), Aaron Ayares (OL/DL), DeAngelo McCullough (WR/DB), and D'Andre Bartee (LB). Key newcomers include seniors Diego Cabello (DL), Mikey Urso (LB), Jason Schmidt (OL), juniors Brandon Berrios (WR/LB), London Leflore (RB/LB), Nico Barkho (DB), Carter Beucler (DL), Jack Ginnan (QB), Cayleb Linsted (OL/DL), Styles Owens (DE), Karl Pretzer (OL/DE), Nick Sietmann (WR/DB), Kevon Brooks (Ath), Stewart Williams (Ath), and sophomores Frankie Macaluso (TE/DL), Nemesio Cortez (OL/DL).
2022 record: 1-8
Coach: Keith McMaster, 4th year
Worth noting: McMaster figures his team will play the numbers game again this season but refuses to let it phase anyone. "We're continually working on our numbers," said McMaster. "Since coaching at Streamwood the last three seasons, we are continually outnumbered, outsized and out-skilled. We don't use it as a crutch -- we embrace it, and the players enjoy the excessive amount of playing time they get compared to other teams in the conference." The Sabres' top returners include 3 seniors -- running back/safety Taro Ishikawa, tight end/defensive back Oscar Villapando, and offensive/defensive lineman Bob Crumlett. "Taro got hurt in Game 1 last year, but he's a 3-year varsity player," said McMaster. "Oscar is our top corner that we matched up on opponents' top receivers, and Bob plays center and is a 2-year starting defensive lineman." The list of newcomers is paced by RB/SS Juan Cortes, RB/OLB Alejandro Flores, and FB/LB Payton Maguire. "Last year, we brought up many sophomores to compete on varsity throughout the season, giving them experience for this season," added McMaster. The Sabres begin their season on Aug. 25 at rival Bartlett.
2022 record: 1-8
Coach: Adam Chavez, 2nd year
Worth noting: The Wildcats would like nothing better than to turn things around on the gridiron in 2023. West Chicago has won 1 game in each of the last 4 full seasons -- and 6 of the past 7. The last time the Wildcats finished with a .500 or better record was in 2002, the last time they reached the Class 8A state playoffs with a 5-5 mark. The schedule maker certainly hasn't made things any easier for second-year head coach Adam Chavez's squad, which visits 4-time defending UEC champion South Elgin in Week 1. Fortunately, the Wildcats return several starters, including senior running back/linebacker Vincent Muci, who rushed for 801 yards on 140 carries with 10 touchdowns last season, and junior wide receiver/defensive back Tommy Doyle, who caught 17 passes for 409 yards and 5 TDs a year ago. Other top returners are senior offensive/defensive lineman Joseph Flores, junior offensive/defensive lineman Ali Nasib, junior tight end/linebacker Diego Contreras, and sophomore offensive/defensive lineman Ean Arizmendi. Top newcomers include senior running back/defensive back Louis Zeitler, and junior offensive/defensive linemen Angelo Jimenez and Oscar Giron. While the Wildcats return key position players, Chavez adds that overall depth of the program needs improvement.