Looking to get a preview of the 2012 high school football season in Illinois?
Circle Wednesday, June 27, on your calendar. That's when Wheaton Warrenville South will host the 16-team Red Grange Classic, a 7-on-7 competition that will feature most of the top-rated programs in the state in Class 7A and 8A.
The participants are Wheaton Warrenville South, Montini, Bolingbrook, Maine South, Glenbard West, East St. Louis, Naperville North, Naperville Central, Wheaton North, Batavia, Elk Grove, Lincoln-Way East, Simeon, Hubbard, New Trier and Lyons.
The winner will qualify for the national 7-on-7 tournament in Hoover, Alabama, in July. Last year, Maine South defeated Montini in the inaugural event that featured eight teams.
In addition, while some of the state's leading passers, receivers and defensive backs will engage in 22-minute contests, the linemen will compete in an eight-event challenge. The 16 schools will participate in a 7-on-7 competition at Wheaton North at the sophomore level.
"Nationally, 7-on-7 is becoming a big thing competitively," Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch said, noting that Illinois-bound Aaron Bailey of defending Class 8A champion Bolingbrook and Northwestern-bound Matt Alviti of Maine South will be two of the highly rated quarterbacks who will be showcased at the June 27 event. "It is good to teach the passing game and pass defense."
It will give Muhitch an opportunity to begin evaluating his stable of quarterback candidates to see if he has another Reilly O'Toole in the making. They are senior-to-be Don McKee and juniors-to-be Ryan Graham, Alex Wills, Barrett Davis and Casey Paraday, a transfer from Springdale, Arkansas.
Last year, Muhitch's quarterback corps was riddled with injuries and he was forced to bring up a sophomore to start in the state championship game. After an 0-2 start, losing to highly rated Glenbard West and Maine South, WW South rallied to finish 10-4, losing to unbeaten Rockford Boylan in the Class 7A final.
He has a knack for filling in the blanks, solving problems and finding the right players to fit into the right positions. In 10 years, he has won 84 percent (106-21) of his games. The Tigers won state titles in 2006, 2009 and 2010 and finished second in 2007 and 2011. In the last seven years, they have lost only nine games, four last year.
Muhitch expects more of the same in 2012. He returns his entire offensive line, including 6-foot-4, 265-pound tackle Frank Garcia, 6-foot-5, 250-pound tackle Kyle Joyce and 6-foot-5, 225-pound tight end Brian Welch. "When I have that, life is good. The group has been together for two years. I see some good things," the coach said.
"The key is this summer we will do a lot of soul-searching to find kids for right spots. We need to find a running back (to replace Northwestern-bound Dan Vitale) and a quarterback and complementary receivers."
Muhitch doesn't plan to change his multiple offense. Once again, he will spread the field. Last year, he gave the ball to Vitale. This year, he will give the ball to senior-to-be Brandan Adams, who didn't play much last season, or 6-foot-3, 210-pound Josh Wilson, who played at Mount Carmel as a freshman and Downers Grove North as a sophomore.
The defense needs a complete overhaul. Muhitch already has shifted some offensive players to fill holes in the defense. Hollis Henry, a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder, has moved from left guard to rush end. Muhitch is optimistic about 6-foot-2, 260-pound defensive lineman Dan Chism, who saw little playing time last year because of a knee injury, and safety Kevin Giltz. But he is looking for linebackers.
WW South's best player and best athlete is wide receiver Corey Davis, a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder whose brother Titus came on strong as a senior and was Rookie of the Year in the Mid-American Conference last year at Central Michigan. Muhitch predicts the same storyline for Corey, who also returns punts and kickoffs.
"Corey should be one of the best players in the class of 2013, one of the best receivers in the Chicago area," Muhitch said. "He has been an up-and-coming athlete for the last two years. Nobody knew much about his brother but he had a great senior year for us. I see the same storyline for Corey."
Another good storyline is kicker Jesse Padalik, who follows in a line of former WW South stars Dan Conroy (Michigan State), Nick Campos (Indiana) and Nick Immekus (Illinois). "He is as good a kicker as Conroy and as good a punter as Campos," Muhitch said.
But the schedule hasn't changed. WW South opens at Glenbard West, then hosts Maine South in Week 2. It won't be easy, of course, but Muhitch is hoping to improve on last year's 0-2 start.