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.