Everyone knew what to expect from Prairie Ridge last season because the Wolves were loaded with key returning players from a Class 6A football state champion.
Prairie Ridge enters another season as defending 6A state champ, although this time no one is quite sure what to think of the Wolves.
The graduation losses were considerable, especially with five four-year varsity players who all landed at NCAA scholarship schools. But there is a tradition in place at Prairie Ridge that other schools envy, and coach Chris Schremp and his staff hope that can carry the team a long way.
Football practice starts Monday morning across the state. Here are five storylines to watch for the upcoming season.
The Wolves own the longest current winning streak in the state at 28 games, and they have been to the playoffs 12 times in 13 years. They have three 6A state titles in seven years.
Three-time Northwest Herald Player of the Year Samson Evans, the masterful option quarterback, and lineman Jeff Jenkins are at Iowa now, so the Wolves will look a lot different. Fullback Jackson Willis should get a lot more work in the option, while quarterback Connor Lydon gets his shot with Evans gone.
If the Wolves can finish near the top of the Fox Valley Conference, which has established itself as one of the state’s best leagues, and make the playoffs again, they should consider that a success.
THE FVC RACE
It was fairly predictable the past two seasons, starting with Prairie Ridge, then moving on to Cary-Grove, Huntley and Jacobs, in some order. This race should be far more unpredictable.
Cary-Grove has a lot of its offensive backfield returning, led by quarterback Quinn Priester. Huntley feels like its defense will be improved, although the offense will be without dynamic playmaker Eric Mooney, who graduated.
Jacobs lost some key players, but coach Bill Mitz has taken the Golden Eagles to the playoffs in seven of his eight years there.
It all could make for a better-balanced and more interesting race this season.
CHAMPS TIMES 2
Will this be the year someone besides Johnsburg wins the Kishwaukee River Conference?
The Skyhawks dominated the league each of the past two seasons. In 2016, they made it to the Class 4A state championship game, losing to Rochester. Last season, former coach Dan DeBoeuf revamped the offense behind quarterback Adam Jayko, who threw the ball a lot, and the Skyhawks were tough to stop.
Johnsburg will have a lot of new starters and a new coach, as Sam Lesniak was promoted from defensive coordinator when DeBoeuf took the head coaching position at Prospect.
NOLL RETURNS TO AREA
McHenry hired a young coach named Mike Noll in 1988, and it could not have worked out better. The Warriors won 14 FVC championships in the next 16 years and were an area powerhouse throughout Noll’s time in McHenry.
Now, Noll is retired from Glenbrook South and takes over at Richmond-Burton, which has been to the playoffs for 11 consecutive seasons.
Noll, like Mitz at Jacobs, can use his time to focus everything on football. That, along with the Rockets’ tradition and speedy running back Mike Kaufman, could make R-B a threat in the KRC and Class 4A.
TURNING IT AROUND
Dundee-Crown enters the season optimistic even though it finished 1-8 last season. The Chargers are led by running back Ricky Ibarra (1,196 yards rushing) and quarterback Josh Raby (1,437 passing). Wide receivers Jack Michalski (46 catches), Brad Stec (17) and Jordan Hairston (13) also return, so the Chargers have the potential to put up some points.
Coach Mike Steinhaus was an assistant with former coach Vito Andriola in 2013 when the Chargers made the playoffs for the first time in 19 years. They have a shot to make it twice in 24 years with this group.