Preps Talk

Five IHSA football programs on the rise in 2016

Five IHSA football programs on the rise in 2016

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.

[MORE: Edgy Tim has football previews for 100 area schools]

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.

36 Days to Kickoff: Glenbard North

36 Days to Kickoff: Glenbard North

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.

School: Glenbard North

Head coach: Ryan Wilkens

Assistant coaches: Rich Smelko, John Cassidy, Bruce Donash, John Pullia, Tom Gudella, Kudret Kamabari and Matt Ng

How they fared in 2017: 5-5 (4-4 DuPage Valley Conference). Glenbard North made the Class 7A state playoff field and lost to Batavia in opening round action.

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 @ Neuqua Valley

Aug. 31 vs Warren Township

Sept. 7 @ St. Charles East

Sept. 14 vs Batavia

Sept. 21 @ Wheaton North

Sept. 28 @ Lake Park

Oct. 5 vs St. Charles North

Oct. 12 vs Wheaton Warrenville South

Oct. 19 @ Geneva

[MORE: 50 Days to Kickoff - Neuqua Valley]

Biggest storyline: The Panthers have a new conference home. Can the Panthers reload and fare well in the DuKane Conference?

Names to watch this season: LB Michael Wellman and FB Jake Wilson

Biggest holes to fill: The Panthers will need several players to step up on offense with just one returning starter back from a season ago-- senior FB Jake Wilson.

EDGY's Early Take: Glenbard North says farewell to the DuPage Valley conference and says hello to all things DuKane. The Panthers will undoubtedly be a younger team in 2018. While some of the star power has graduated, head coach Ryan Wilkins will once again focus on establishing a strong, fast and physical running game. Getting off to a good start against a loaded schedule will be a big key for Glenbard North this season. 

Rolling Meadows' Max Christie on the verge of national breakout

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USA TODAY

Rolling Meadows' Max Christie on the verge of national breakout

EMERSON, Ga. -- Rolling Meadows rising sophomore guard Max Christie is having a strong spring and summer on the grassroots circuit as he's emerged as one of the area's newest breakout stars.
 
At 6-foot-5 with an ability to play both on and off the ball, Christie is a versatile perimeter player who can be either a big point guard or a smooth wing. Even though he's only finished one year of high school, Christie already has earned some major college scholarship offers as Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Loyola, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin have all been involved. Playing up an age group with the Illinois Wolves U16 team, Christie is starting to generate a lot of buzz among college coaches and national scouts.
 
"I think I've played well. I've been growing. I have a huge target on my back. So I'm just confident and humble and playing my game," Christie said. "College coaches are coming in everywhere, but I'm just playing my game and not worrying about them. I'm just having fun."
 
Christie is coming off of a positive freshman season at Rolling Meadows in which he had some big games as a freshman while playing on varsity. Although Christie is still very skinny and trying to add strength, he has started to adjust to opponents trying to play physical against him. As he starts to get older, Christie is adjusting to how certain opponents will handle him.
 
"On the court, it's physical. So I have to get used to that. I have encouraging teammates so that's good for me. But everybody is double-teaming me and face-guarding me, so I just have to use screens and everything," Christie said.
 
"I've been in the weight room working. The strength is there. I'm always using it against other teams. I just have to get used to it. I feel like [the physicality] is not as much of a factor as I get stronger."
 
Christie will be one of the marked men in the area this season as he'll draw a lot of attention at Rolling Meadows. He has the potential to be an all-area player. With multiple high-major scholarship offers and national recruiting profiles, Christie is just trying to maintain his focus on staying a versatile player. Playing both on and off the ball, Christie is trying to improve the consistency on his perimeter jumper while also trying to grow his basketball IQ.
 
"Both of them are fine. Off the ball, I like to set screens and get teammates open. I like to get open. On the ball, I like to create, passes, all that stuff," Christie said. "So I'm just trying to make plays, get my teammates open, set better screens."
 
"Leadership is something I need to work on, so it's something I need to accept for this season. So, since I've built this reputation, I'm trying to be more of a leader and encourage. Just being a better teammate."
 
Christie averaged 18 points, eight rebounds and 2.9 assists per game as a freshman at Rolling Meadows, as he has the ability to put up monster numbers as a sophomore. Underclass players don't typically compete for awards in the Chicagoland area, but Christie is a potentially special talent at the high school level as he attempts to ascend into a national-level recruit.