You might be wondering why Prairie Ridge was selected as CSN Chicago's 2017 "Drive" team. A better question: "Why wouldn't they be selected?"
Let's start with their defending state champion status. This is a Wolves team that ran roughshod over the Fox Valley Conference last season en route to a perfect 14-0 record and a Class 6A state title. In that time, they averaged just over 50 points per game. Their defense held eight of their opponents to a touchdown or less--including three consecutive shutouts.
This much is certain: the entire Fox Valley Conference will be bringing its A-plus game against Prairie Ridge week in and week out this fall.
Can the Wolves get back to the state title game and repeat as 6A champs? Better yet, before anyone can even think of a repeat, can Prairie Ridge escape the first two weeks of the regular season? Cary-Grove and Huntley are solid programs. And they're revenge-minded.
This Prairie Ridge program, featuring head coach Chris Schremp, still believes in running the football early and often. They play a fast and very physical defense. Does any team in Illinois feature an explosive, double-wing option attack offense that also happens to be one of the highest scoring units in the state? You generally don't place double-wing option and high scoring, explosive offense in the same sentence. Then again, most teams aren't Prairie Ridge.
And then there are the personalities.
At what point of his pregame ritual does mild-mannered, All-State QB Samson Evans change into his Superman costume? If any one player personifies the 2017 version of Superman, it would be Samson Evans.
Evans, who is already verbally committed to Iowa, seems to be about as level-headed and low-key as any kid you'll meet. But once the game starts, Evans becomes a very dangerous young man when the football is in his hands.
How unassuming does Evans come off to the analysts? One national recruiting expert told me this after seeing Evans in person for the first time this winter: "He (Evans) looks more like the kid at Jewel who bagged my groceries," right before seeing Evans fire off yet another impressive 40 yard dash.
Does senior offensive tackle Jeff Jenkins (Iowa) wear anything else these days besides Iowa gear? These are the pressing questions we need to have answered this fall on "Drive."
Also, are we finally seeing the Fox Valley Conference get its due via Drive?
Long gone are the olden days of the Fox Valley Conference when McHenry of the 1990s and early 2000s would post weekly 40-point running clock blowout wins week in and week out. Cary-Grove is still Cary-Grove. The Trojans want to just pound the football and all opposing teams. Huntley, who continues to inch closer and closer to becoming an 8A power, would like nothing better than to beat the Wolves.
The new Fox Valley continues to be one of the most competitive conferences-- and it also feeds three separate classes come state playoff time (8A thru 6A).
But the best part about Prairie Ridge football and the FVC is still about the traditions, namely Friday night football. It's part of the area's fabric. The schools are big enough to compete with any conference regardless of size. And yet, they're still small enough to not lose that all-important local community connection that only high school football provides.
CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Jul. 31, we’ll unveil the @CSNPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 25.
Head coach: Nat Zunkle
Assistant coaches: Jon Niemic, Rob Niemic, Chris Madson, Kyle Owens, Jim Little, Dennis Hutchinson, Kyle Just, Brian Wilbois, Tony Swanson
How they fared in 2016: 6-4 (5-3 Fox Valley Conference), made the Class 7A playoffs and lost to Batavia in opening-round action.
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2017 regular season schedule:
Aug. 25 – vs Crystal Lake South
Sept. 1 – @ Cary-Grove
Sept. 8 – vs Elgin
Sept. 15 - @ Crystal Lake Central
Sept. 22 - @ Jacobs
Sept. 29 – vs Prairie Ridge
Oct. 6 - @ Dundee-Crown
Oct. 13 - vs Hampshire
Oct. 20- vs Huntley
Biggest storyline: Can the Warriors make it back-to-back playoff appearances?
Names to watch this season: senior LB Luke Begrowicz, senior QB Pat Breisch
Biggest holes to fill: The Warriors will bring back a ton of experience this fall (15 returning starters), but will need to reload on the defensive line.
EDGY's early take: Zunkle was able to lead the Warriors back to the postseason for the first time since 2007. While the Fox Valley Conference will be as stacked as ever at the top, look for the Warriors to again challenge all comers in 2017.