It seems like every season we see (at least) a handful of teams who seem to come out of nowhere to become playoff-worthy teams. Here are five teams who could become Cinderella stories for the 2016 IHSA football season, which kicks off this Friday.
Naperville North (2-7 in 2015): The Huskies and head coach Sean Drendel have been stuck in second gear the past two seasons, posting two straight 2-7 records after a 5-5 state playoff appearance in 2013. North returns 17 starters (seven offense, 10 defense) this season. They have talent and a new offensive system led by former St. Francis head coach Mike Fitzgerald, who is now the Huskies offensive coordinator. It's never easy winning in the DuPage Valley; however, the Huskies look to be in position for a breakout season.
Bremen (1-8 in 2015): The Braves have had down years the past two seasons (2-7 in 2014 and 1-8 in 2015). That said, head coach Dan Stell and company could be on the verge of a breakout this fall. 18 starters will be back on the field in Midlothian. And there is some real talent in place, with junior OL/DL Chris Clark and a ton of experienced offensive skills players to boot.
Fenwick (3-6 in 2015): Head coach Gene Nudo decided to go young in 2015. Will that experience pay off this season? The Friars bring back 19 returning starters, which includes the entire starting offense from 2015. Keep an eye on senior quarterback (and basketball standout) Jacob Keller along with junior WR Mike O'Laughlin. The 2016 schedule for Fenwick is -once again- brutally tough, yet this team is much better prepared for a rough ride.
Wheeling (4-5 in 2015): The Wildcats dropped their first five games in 2015. But the strong finish -wins in their last four games- has turned a few heads.. The Wildcats, with veteran Hall of Fame head coach Brent Pearlman at the helm, will look to get back to the state playoffs this season behind 16 returning starters (seven offense, nine defense) including senior QB Jalen Dennis and senior RB Jason Shannon. Getting off to a good start in non-conference play again is vital for Wheeling.
Zion-Benton (3-6 in 2015): The Zee-Bees always had trouble getting wins in the then-North Suburban Lake (now realigned as the North Suburban 8) but the 2016 Z-B squad could surprise. Head coach Bob Moynahan brings back 13 starters (eight offense, five defense) including four starting offensive linemen and a ton of speed and skills on both sides of the football. Again, the schedule is brutal (Stevenson/Lake Zurich/Libertyville/Warren Township/Lake Forest), but I see this team having the potential to challenge for that fifth magical win this season.
CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 1, we’ll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 26. View Edgy Tim's other football previews here.
Head coach: Craig Buzea
How they fared in 2015: 10-2 (6-1) Southwest Suburban Blue Conference. Homewood-Flossmoor made the Class 8A state playoff field. The Vikings defeated O'Fallon and New Trier, then lost to eventual champion Loyola Academy in the quarterfinals.
Biggest storyline in 2016: Can the Vikings reload at a few key spots this fall?
Names to watch this season: RB/DB Justin Hall, OL John Michael Schmitz, WR Tyrice Richie
[PREPS: Edgy Tim's Countdown to Kickoff series]
Biggest holes to fill: Who plays quarterback for the Vikings?
EDGY's early take: Despite needing to reload in a few key spots, Homewood-Flossmoor still has a tremendous talent base. Look for the Vikings to rely early on its running game, led by three returning starters on the offensive line and an extremely fast and physical defense.
Aug. 26 vs. Downers Grove South (7:30 p.m.)
Sept. 2 vs. Hammond, IN (8 p.m.)
Sept. 9 at Lincoln-Way East (7:30 p.m.)
Sept. 16 at Lockport (7:30 p.m.)
Sept. 23 vs. Lincoln-Way West (7:30 p.m.)
Sept. 30 vs. Sandburg (7:30 p.m.)
Oct. 7 vs. Thornridge (7:30 p.m.)
Oct. 14 at Thornton Township (7:30 p.m.)
Oct. 21 vs. Bolingbrook (7:30 p.m.)
Here are the Top 5 uncommitted recruits in the Illinois for the Class of 2017.
WR Jeff Thomas, East St. Louis (5-foot-10, 170 pounds): A four star-ranked wide receiver by Rivals.com, Thomas has multiple BCS level offers from across the country. While Thomas has yet to make a verbal commitment, he recently named a top six schools listing which includes Missouri, Alabama, Michigan State, Texas A&M, Auburn and Florida State. EDGY's Best Guess: Missouri
DE Olalere Oladipo, Huntley (6-foot-4, 240 pounds): A three star-ranked strong side defensive end, Oladipo is expecting to announce his final college choice this Thursday after practice. Oladipo had narrowed down his favorites to Cal, Duke, Illinois, Michigan State, Penn State and Indiana. He told Rivals.com's Josh Helmholdt recently, "I have a top three but I’d rather people find when they get there by the schools on the table." EDGY's Best guess: Illinois
DE Josh Maize, Deerfield (6-foot-4, 230 pounds): A three star-ranked weak side defensive end, Maize seemed to be in a wait-and-see mode this summer when asked about making a college decision. Maize is planning to narrow down his list to a top three or top five schools list very shortly. He has also talked about making a few potential official visits before making his final choice. EDGY's Best Guess: Indiana
OL/DL Kendrick Green, Peoria High (6-foot-4, 270 pounds): Green is a three star-ranked offensive guard but started to draw offers as an interior defensive linemen once he hit the summer camp and satellite circuit. Green, who traveled to play for Team USA this summer in China, has been trying to get out to visit schools and those visits will continue into the season. EDGY's Best Guess: Minnesota
ATH Eric Rooks, DeLaSalle (6-foot-3, 220 pounds): Rooks, who will play wide receiver and some safety for the Meteors this fall, is a prototypical athlete recruit. Rooks has the potential to play defensive end/outside linebacker and even safety. He also has terrific ball skills for, potentially, a wide receiver or tight end/H back. Rooks, who has added several MAC offers, will draw more serious Big 10 college coach attention at his early video this season. EDGY's Best Guess: Purdue