5. Keep your eyes on these running backs.
Marian Central’s Brian Niemaszek is the leading returning rusher among running backs in the area with 1,168 yards last season.
Here are four backs who are destined to finish significantly higher on that list this season:
• Loren Strickland, Jacobs: He finished with 802 yards and became the Eagles’ go-to back late in the season. With their power running game and a strong line, Strickland will be tough to deal with.
• Kyle Leva, Crystal Lake South: A third-year varsity player, Leva ran for 601 yards and also led South with 32 receptions. He likely will be the Gators’ top offensive threat again this season.
• Zach Gulbransen, Prairie Ridge (pictured above): The Wolves considered moving Gulbransen to fullback, a position he played in the Junior Wolves’ program in eighth grade, but his speed to get outside will be integral for their offense. He rushed for 569 yards last season for the state champs.
• Max Skol, Cary-Grove: Skol may assume the role that Tyler Pennington had the last couple seasons of playing fullback and also on defense. The Trojans platoon most players, but make exceptions with their best athletes. Skol ran for 376 yards last season, many of which came when Pennington missed two games with a sprained ankle.