NBCSportsChicago.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 July 30, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 24.
Head coach: Craig Buzea
Assistant coaches: Tom Cicero, Zac Wells, Alex Pratt, Daron Williams, Eric Schreiber Jr., Bart Czachor, David James, Josh Blair, Josh Forney and Matt Ramos
How they fared in 2017: 9-2 (6-1 Southwest Suburban Conference). H-F made the 8A state playoff field, defeated Lake Park then lost to Naperville Central in second round action.
2018 Regular Season Schedule:
Aug. 24 vs Michigan City (IN)
Sept. 1 vs Lutheran North (MO.) at East St. Louis
Sept. 7 vs Stagg
Sept. 14 @ Bolingbrook
Sept. 21 vs Lincoln-Way West
Sept. 28 @ Lincoln-Way East
Oct. 5 @ Bradley
Oct. 12 vs Andrew
Oct. 19 vs Sandburg
Biggest storyline: Can the Vikings, now without their dynamic WR/RB Justin Hall (NIU), get back to the postseason and play deeper into November?
Names to watch this season: QB Dominick Jones and DB Wynston Russell (Oregon State)
Biggest holes to fill: The Vikings have a good number of returning starters back in 2018 (five offense, six defense). The team boasts plenty of talent. But who can step up and be the go-to guy? Who replaces Justin Hall?
EDGY's Early Take: The Vikings have become a traditional power in Chicago's south suburbs and in the overall Class 8A field. Head coach Craig Buzea is looking for a breakout season and he has the ingredients in the program. The offense will be led by junior QB Dominick Jones. He has some firepower behind him in senior RB Leon Tanna. Keep an eye senior TE Jack Schmitz as well. The defense is also talent-heavy. Look for senior DL Isaiah Coe and senior DE/OLB Charlies Brooks to help carry the load. Oregon State commit senior DB Wynston Russell is the lone returning starter in the secondary.
As encouraging as some elements of the 2017 season was for the Bears defense, it wasn’t enough. Ranking in the top 10 in fewest points and yards allowed left linchpins like lineman Akiem Hicks setting “top five” as a declared goal.
With what has happened within the last 13 days – from the first preseason game vs. Baltimore through the long-anticipated arrival of Roquan Smith – the Bears have had arguably seen a handful of developments that could put “elite” within reach of a defense intent on being just that.
The developments have been the play of linebackers Kylie Fitts and Isaiah Irving, and now topped off by the Smith addition. The reasons are obvious – a linebacker-dependent defense (as all 3-4’s inherently are) has moved to the brink of realizing impact from not one, not two, but possibly three.
None is being given a leading role in an already good defense. But what they all represent are high-speed additions in a sport where speed rules and rivals pad-level in importance. Fitts and Irving have flashed off the edges, and Smith was the No. 8 pick of the draft for his speed in getting to targets, followed of course what he does to them when he gets there.
How any change occurs remains to play out, and Vic Fangio has used rotations in his front seven’s. One scenario could be Smith easing in as part of nickel packages, where the Bears have used a 4-2 front and would have Smith and Danny Trevathan as their ILB’s. Likewise, Fitts and Irving present edge options in that package as well as in base 3-4.
Understand: No criticism of any sort is directed at either of the incumbents. No knock on Nick Kwiatkoski, who has in two seasons and this training camp established himself as an NFL inside linebacker. Nor is it a diss of Sam Acho, who is a physical edge presence with some pass-rush pop. The Bears need both, REALLY need both.
But the 1983 Bears ranked fifth in the NFL in points allowed with Al Harris as part of a linebacker corps that included Mike Singletary and Otis Wilson. Jim Finks drafted Wilber Marshall in the 1984 first round and Ron Rivera in the second. Harris remained the starter but the Bears also jumped to third in points allowed with Marshall and first the two years after that.
Hall of Fame defensive lineman Dan Hampton said years later that Marshall – nicknamed “Pit Bull”by teammates – was the single best individual player on that elite defense, and the player that took things to another level entirely. And as Marshall told Hall of Fame NFL writer Rick “Goose” Gosselin, who created the special-teams ranking system used by every NFL team and now hosts "Talk of Fame Radio:”
"They had Mike [Singletary] sitting on the sidelines when I’m playing middle linebacker on third down. So I wasn’t just a rush guy, like the guys on the end that you see them go 90 percent of the time."
Sounding like a bill of particulars for Smith.
Best guess that Smith – wearing the No. 58 that Marshall wore – will have a new level of impact for a defense that just added a piece with a chance to earn the designation of “elite.”
Fitts and Irving are younger, faster options on the edge. Fitts is bigger and faster (4.69 sec. 40) than Irving, but one can never be too rich, too thin or have too many edge rushers.
And Smith, who had 6.5 sacks last season at Georgia (his only credited sacks in three seasons there), projects to be the fastest Bears linebacker with a documented 4.51-sec. time in the 40 – faster than Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher and…well, you get the point.
And speed is the route to “elite.”