The passion is back at Maine South.
The Hawks’ run of state titles ended at three when Stevenson knocked off Maine South 24-22 in the second round of the Class 8A playoffs last fall. As the Hawks try to regain their playoff mojo this season, there’s been a different vibe.
“There’s a lot more enthusiasm with this team,” coach David Inserra said. “Last year was just a quieter group of kids.”
Not so this fall, according to offensive lineman Dan Poulos.
“Any drills we’re doing, guys are jumping up and down, doing high-fives, getting excited,” Poulos said.
If the season plays out the way the Hawks — No. 1 in the Sun-Times’ preseason Super 25 — hope, that could be a familiar scene this fall.
Here’s a look at the Super 25:
1. Maine South
Setting the tone for the Hawks will be Matt Alviti, a senior Northwestern recruit in his third season as the team’s starting quarterback. Alviti’s arm and legs have accounted for 76 touchdowns and he’s not the only offensive weapon. John Solari, Frank Perrone and Mike Bosco are capable receivers, while Anthony Mitchell and Clay Burdelik will run behind an all-senior line. Linebacker Noah Meyer leads the defense.
Coming off a 5-5 finish in 2010, the Raiders flew under the radar for much of their run to the Class 8A title last season. With Illinois-bound QB Aaron Bailey, RBs Omar Stover and Jaden Huff and several linemen back on offense, that won’t happen again. Junior DB Parker Westphal is a big-timer on the defensive side.
3. Glenbard West
The Hilltoppers are never going to change their identity, which is that they’re a run-first team. With backs such as Joe Zito and Scott Andrews, there’s no need to. But this Glenbard West team can also throw effectively, especially with 6-5, 210-pound TE Nathan Marcus, a Vanderbilt recruit. Ruben Dunbar, one of the nation’s top defensive end prospects, is another big-timer.
4. Wheaton Warrenville S.
Look for the Tigers — second in Class 7A last season — to ride a veteran offensive line of Frank Garcia, Ryan McCarthy, Rich Metzger, Joe Kirsch and Kyle Joyce as far as possible. The idea is to buy time for a defense that graduated 11 starters as WW South takes on a brutal schedule that features Glenbard West, Maine South and DuPage Valley powers such as Glenbard North and Wheaton North.
5. Mount Carmel
Most of the starters return from a team that went 10-4, losing to eventual 8A champ Bolingbrook in the Class 8A second round before winning the Prep Bowl. A pair of seniors — QB Don Butkus and RB Draco Smith — should keep the Caravan’s trademark option attack rolling along.
There are a lot of skill players to replace for last year’s Class 8A runner-up, including QB Malcolm Weaver and most of his favorite targets. But the Ramblers have found a way to keep the train rolling with two semifinal bids and a trip to Champaign the last three years. Look for QB Peter Pujals, DL Darby Goodwin and DB Luke Ford to keep Loyola among the state’s elite programs.
The path to a fourth consecutive Class 5A title is anything but easy for the Broncos, who open with big-school powers Palatine and Lincoln-Way East before playing defending 3A champ Aurora Christian and Marian Central in the Suburban Christian Blue. But Montini has the talent for another playoff run with stars such as WR Joe Borsellino and DE Fred Beaugard.
8. Joliet Catholic
It starts for the Hilltoppers with Ty Isaac, the reigning Sun-Times Player of the Year who’s committed to USC. But the state’s best player has a great supporting cast, including fellow RB Tyler Reitz and OL J.B. Butler. No program in Illinois has won more state titles (13) and state trophies (17). Don’t be surprised if Joliet Catholic adds some more hardware.
9. Glenbard North
One of the state’s more underrated programs, the Panthers just keep winning with two semifinal berths and a runner-up trophy since 2007. QB Brian Murphy, committed to wrestle at Michigan, and RB Justin Jackson should keep Glenbard North competitive again in the DuPage Valley and Class 8A.
Again the class of the Public League, the Wolverines are still hoping to break through in the IHSA playoffs. Elcee Burke takes over as QB and will operate behind a line anchored by seniors Kendall Moore (6-5, 265) and Devontae Lee (6-6, 230). LB Reggie Spearman, who has committed to Illinois, and DB Aaron Banks pace the defense.
11. St. Rita
Expect a lot of run calls from the Mustangs, who will lineup up veteran backs Tim Lombard and Guerby Ministre behind a big, experienced offensive line. LB Jack Sears leads a defense that will have more new faces. If that unit grows up quickly, St. Rita should be in the mix for Catholic League Blue and Class 7A titles.
Gone are four Division I prospects from the team that knocked off three-time defending Class 8A champ Maine South in the second round of the playoffs. But with 23 consecutive IHSA playoff berths, reloading is a way of life for the Patriots. Junior DB/WR Matt Morrissey, one of three Patriots whose father played for the Bears (Cameron Green and Zach Novoselsky are the others), is among the talented veterans.
The RedHawks scored points in bunches (36.9 per game) and gave up plenty as well (31.9). With QB Ian Woodworth, WR Nic Weishar (one of the nation’s top junior prospects) and RB Peter Andreotti all back, the offense will be among the state’s best again. If the defense improves, this could be a big year in Mount Greenwood.
14. Wheaton North
There is good news and bad news for the Falcons. The bad — gone are the top seven offensive linemen and top four receivers from last year’s 8-3 DuPage Valley runner-up. The good — back are QB John Peltz, who had 2,396 yards and 27 TDs passing and running last season, and RB Patrick Sharp.
15. Lincoln-Way East
Some things never change in prep football, especially in Frankfort. The Griffins have had one head coach, Rob Zvonar, and have never missed the IHSA playoffs in their 11 seasons of varsity play. East graduated QB Blake Winkler (2,369 yards, 30 TDs) and his two favorite targets (Jason Robertson and Jay Yancy). But they have another good QB in Northern Illinois recruit Tom Fuessel.
16. Hinsdale Central
The Red Devils should hold their own in the rugged West Suburban Silver thanks to a potent passing game with QB Brian Owens throwing to 6-6 junior receiver Ian Bunting. A big, experienced offensive line with four seniors and 6-2, 272-pound junior standout Brian Allen should protect Owens well.
Opposing defenses don’t have an easy time preparing for the Pirates, who shuffle quarterbacks and running backs in and out of the game from snap to snap. John Serio, Cam Kuksa and Ethan Olles are among the players to watch in that rotating cast, while ball-hawking DB Jesse Bobbit leads the defense. Watch out once Palatine gets to full strength; three key players could miss the opener against Montini for various reasons.
Last year’s Warriors posted the school’s first undefeated regular season since 1952 before bowing to Peoria Richwoods in the Class 6A second round. This year’s club could be better. Laquon Treadwell, a 6-3, 183-pound receiver, is the state’s top uncommitted prospect and one of the nation’s best. Other playmakers include QB Marcus Terrell, WR Lance Lenoir and LB Nyles Morgan.
19. Elk Grove
Coach Brian Doll left for a job to promote American football in Europe, but the Grenadiers didn’t skip a beat this summer under new coach Larry Calhoun, winning the loaded Red Grange 7-on-7 title at WW South. Junior QB Adam O’Malley has the arm and savvy to run Elk Grove’s pass-oriented attack and keep the program heading in the right direction.
The Indians have been a model of consistency, going to the playoffs eight years in a row and reaching the quarterfinals or beyond every season since 2007. Two talented offensive linemen — LSU-bound Ethan Pocic (6-7, 285) and Tim McAuliffe (6-2, 270) — should keep Lemont in the Class 6A mix again.
21. Prairie Ridge
The defending Class 6A champ Wolves got some bad news late this summer when LB Nick Lanaski suffered a season-ending back injury and RB Jordan Getzelman decided to skip football to prepare for college baseball. But Northern Illinois-bound LB Sean Folliard and his teammates still have high goals after earning two semifinal berths and one title since 2009.
After taking two consecutive trips to the Class 8A quarterfinals — the longest playoff runs in school history — the Lions have set a goal of going farther in 2012. Expect speedy senior Matt Harris, a Northwestern recruit, to have plenty of touches as a running back, Wildcat quarterback, receiver and kick returner. Kicker Jake Elliott is another game-changer.
Two years after moving five talented sophomores up to the varsity, Wildcats coach Bill Mosel hopes for a big payoff. Jalen Banks, one of the nation’s top uncommitted safeties, leads that senior group, which also includes the Towns twins — RB/DB Jamal and QB/RB/DB Jason — along with DB Taje Frazier and DL Jerome Jenkins.
Look for the Southwest Prairie power to open up its offense with quarterback Joe Carnagio and receivers Max Brozovich and Luke Stovall back as starters. With Northwestern recruit Blake King (6-5, 270) anchoring the offensive line, Carnagio should have plenty of time to throw.
The Roadrunners were coming off consecutive one-win seasons when coach Tim Racki arrived in 2005. Now they’re hoping to use last year’s East Suburban Catholic Conference co-championship and school-record 10 wins as springboards for another big year. Nazareth has the skill players needed to make another run in Class 6A, including backs Josh Moore, Rudy Romagnano and Aneas White along with receiver Zack Manuel.