Big Northern East promises to be competitive again

Johnsburg made a big splash in its return to the Big Northern Conference last year, winning the East title with a perfect 7-0 record in the division, edging out 6-1 Burlington Central, which has a new coach this season in Jason Newburger.

First-year Johnsburg coach Dan DeBoeuf believes his team again has the chops to compete for the division title but acknowledges there will be plenty of competition.

"There are a ton of tough teams and every week will be a battle," said DeBoeuf.

Johnsburg, which advanced to the second round of the playoffs a year ago, has 6 starters back on offense and five on defense. DeBoeuf believes junior running back Alex Peete is a conference player of the year contender. He ran for 1,488 yards last year. He'll run behind returning all-conference linemen John Conroy (senior) and Joe Moore (junior).

Richmond-Burton (6-4, 4-3 a year ago) must replace its three leading rushers from last year. Veteran coach Pat Elder feels his team's offensive line will be a key strength.

"We have very good numbers and feel that as our running backs progress throughout the season, so should we," said Elder.

Genoa-Kingston also won four division games last year. Coach Bill McCarty returns starters Ian Fell (DB-WR, Sr.), Nick Cotham (OL, Sr.), Dan Russell (OL, Sr.), Andy Walker (OL, Sr.) and Brady Huffman (P, Sr.) along with juniors Luke Miller (OL, Jr.) and Zach Butler (DB, Jr.).

"Numbers could be a strength, but you never know until we get going into the season," said McCarty. "We will need to find leadership in this group. Hopefully someone will step up to the plate."

North Boone played .500 football last year (5-5) and returns 8 starters on both sides of the ball, including all-conference senior performers Griffin Schuster (QB-DB), Nick Krawczyk (OL-DL), Nate Montemayor (RB-LB) and Cole Johnson (OL-DL).

"We are experienced on both sides of the ball," said North Boone coach Aaron Sullivan. "We should be competitive each week and we feel we have a chance to reach the playoffs again."

Marengo has 6 starters back each on offense and defense. Top returning players include Craiton Nice (WR-DB), Jarrell Jackson (WR-RB-DB), Kyle Gara (FB-LB), Andrew Anderson (T-DT), Kwinn Velasques (G-DT), Chase Bough (G-DT), Brandon Temple (WR-SS), Adam Roudabush (WR-DB), Drake Stavroplos (RB-LB), Colton Wightman (TE-LB), Daniel Martinez (RB-DB) and Jesse Ramirez (K).

Harvard has 8 starters back on offense and defense headlined by seniors Reiss Bielski (WR-DB) and Tyler Perkins (LB-TE), along with junior Hunter Freres (RB-DB). "Though we have a few returners that have playing experience we still are fairly green," said Harvard coach Sean Saylor. "Maturity from Week 1 to Week 2 will set the tone."

Rockford Christian, which went winless last year, has 6 starters back on offense and five on defense. Senior quarterback Pat McMahon (all-BNC East honorable mention) threw for more than 1,200 yards, including a school-record 302-yard performance against Richmond. Senior lineman Nick Kuchenreuther is the team's returning captain and a two-way starter.

"This group is determined to overcome a lack of experience depth and historical success," coach Brett Frederick said.

Division coaches see another ultracompetitive season on tap.

"I think it will be a lot like last year where anyone can beat anyone," North Boone's Sullivan said.

Richmond's Elder added: "In my time in the league this may be the best top to bottom our league has been. Every week will be an incredible challenge for each team and we would expect nothing less from the best small-school conference in the state."

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