Players to watch
Alex Peete, Johnsburg, RB, jr.
Peete (5-foot-10, 178) rushed for 1,488 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2014 to help Johnsburg win its first postseason game since 2009. He chose not to cut weight during wrestling season and will start the 2015 football season an inch taller, a year older and 20 pounds heavier than last season.
Kyle Gara, Marengo, LB, sr.
Gara (5-11, 210) was in on an area-best 135 tackles and had three interceptions last season. He forced three fumbles, recovered two and returned an interception for a touchdown. A natural athlete, when he was inserted on offense, he rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns in his first game. He finished the year with 448 rushing yards.
Hunter Freres, Harvard, RB/S, jr.
Harvard coach Sean Saylor calls Freres (5-11, 160) his “Jose Oquendo.” Like the St. Louis Cardinals’ utility man from the 1980s, the junior can play a variety of positions on the offensive side of the ball, including receiver, running back and fullback. But on defense, Freres shines at safety.
Fred Bush, Richmond-Burton, OL/DL, sr.
Bush (6-7, 300) is a bruising lineman with size and speed. He was named the MVP at the University of Illinois’ Big Man Camp this summer and has drawn interest from about a dozen schools. How he performs in the first three to four games of the season will determine whether he ends up at a Football Championship Subdivision school or a big Power 5 school.
Dalton Wagner, Richmond-Burton, OL, jr.
Wagner (6-8, 280) started all 10 games for the Rockets as a sophomore last season. He has only grown bigger and stronger. This summer, he was named the top junior offensive lineman at the Illinois State University camp.
Joe Moore, Johnsburg, DL, jr.
Moore (6-2, 245) burst onto the scene last season as one of the key players in a talented Johnsburg sophomore class. Now a junior, he will be counted on even more as a leader of the Skyhawks’ defense.
Zach Knobloch, Marengo, QB, sr.
After taking his junior year off of football, Knobloch (6-0, 165) will return to the Indians for his senior season. His athletic prowess is well documented on the basketball court, where he piled up an Illinois record for single-season 3-pointers with 167. The question is, can he continue that success when he tries to score points six at a time on the football field?
Johnsburg at Rockford Christian
7 p.m., Sept. 11
Johnsburg will begin its defense of the BNC East in Week 3. An early win will set first-year coach Dan DeBoeuf and the Skyhawks on the right track to repeat.
Johnsburg at Richmond-Burton
7 p.m., Sept. 25
The two rivals likely will be two of the top teams competing for the BNC East title. Last year, Johnsburg won the game, 35-13, and the conference. The Rockets will host the Skyhawks this time and will be looking for revenge.
North Boone at Marengo
7 p.m., Oct. 23
Last year, Marengo needed one more win to secure its first playoff birth since 2004, when it lost in heartbreaking fashion at North Boone. This season, the two teams again meet in the last week of the season for a game that likely will hold significant playoff implications for both teams.
The Skyhawks took the division by storm in their return to the BNC East last season, going a perfect 7-0 in conference play to win the division outright. A talented junior class that includes Peete and Moore will try to help Johnsburg repeat.
Under coach Pat Elder, the Rockets consistently have been one of the top teams in the BNC East, reaching the postseason in each of the past eight seasons. With a formidable offensive line, they will make a run at the BNC East title.
Last season, Marengo narrowly missed the postseason because of a playoff points tiebreaker. The Indians are trending in the right direction, however, and have a strong chance of ending their 10-year playoff drought.
Johnsburg 7-0 9-2
Burlington Central 6-1 6-4
Richmond-Burton 4-3 6-4
Genoa-Kingston 4-3 4-5
Marengo 3-4 5-4
North Boone 3-4 5-5
Harvard 1-6 2-7
Rockford Christian 0-7 0-9