2022 season preview: Scouting the North Suburban Conference

Lake Zurich

2021 record: 5-5

Coach: Ron Planz

Worth noting: The Bears have some decorated folks returning among the 4 starters back on offense and eight on defense. North Dakota commit Tyler Erkman (6-2, 190) was an all-NSC selection and Daily Herald All-Area pick after catching 23 passes for 450 yards and 3 touchdowns, while making 21 tackles and snaring 3 interceptions out of the defensive back field. "Tyler is a dynamic player on both sides of the ball," Planz said. Running back Cal Grabowski also was an all-NSC selection. The 5-11, 205-pounder ran 49 times for 172 yards and scored 5 touchdowns. He also made 73 tackles (4 for loss) as a linebacker. Offensive and defensive lineman Collin Byrne (5-11, 200) also is back after an honorable-mention all-NSC season in 2021. Kicker and punter Danny Vuckovic certainly will help with his returning presence on special teams. "Our defense will be strong," Planz said. "It's a veteran group that gained a ton of experience last year. We have 8 returning starters, plus guys who rotated in last year. The entire secondary and linebacking group is back. It has been fun to watch this group compete and have the ability to add some wrinkles because of the familiarity with the base defense." Planz said having a full offseason for the first time since he was hired has "allowed us to get a good look at how this unit can utilize the playbook," he said. "We have a pretty good understanding of our strengths and weaknesses. This puts us much farther ahead of the last few years in trying to determine our identity." Planz said intangibles such as leadership and conditioning have been off the charts. "We had a great offseason developing in the weight room and growing as leaders," he said. Two other players to watch are linebacker and tight end Tyler Burkley, who missed some time last year due to injury but is back healthy, and "should be a force," Planz said, as well as Lincoln Adams, who started at linebacker as a sophomore. "Lincoln will be a valuable player on defense," Planz said.


2021 record: 6-4

Coach: Mike Jones

Worth noting: The Wildcats have a good foundation to build around in senior 6-7, 280-pound tackle Trenton VanBoening, who is committed to Eastern Michigan. Senior wideout Kristian Gavric also returns. He was Libertvyille's leading receiver a year ago and presents a good 6-6, 190-pound target. "Kristian is a very physical receiver," Jones said. The defense is anchored by returners such as Caleb Christensen (6-1, 275, DL), Cole Matulenko (6-2, 200, DL) and Austin Gomez (DB) - all seniors. Together, Jones brings back 5 starters on offense and six more on defense. "We are a senior-heavy team with a good amount of playing experience," Jones said. "Our offense will get better as the year progresses. We have the potential to be very balanced between the run and the pass. Our defense will be experienced up front and we will have the ability to run the ball well."


2021 record: 4-5

Coach: Vince DeFrancesco

Worth noting: Experience won't be a problem for the Mustangs this season with 5 starters back on offense and eight more on defense, including junior defensive linemen Julien Rivas (5-11, 250) and Jarius White (6-5, 245), senior linebacker Marcel Siepko (6-2, 215) and defensive backs Lucas Dickey (5-8, 170, Jr.), Vinny Rogalski (5-11, 175, Jr.), Jayden Gomez (5-9, 160, Sr.) and Michael Schumacher. Junior Nathan Vicari (5-11, 245) also returns, along with offensive linemen Brandon Hanson (6-7, 315, Jr.) and Zach Ries (5-11, 260, Sr.), as well as skill-position players Adam Alkhatib (5-11, 205, RB, Jr.), Chris Callas (6-3, 230, athlete, Sr.) and Adam Bogenski (6-4, 195, TE, Jr.). "Our program is coming off a strong offseason and it has seen a tremendous growth in numbers," DeFrancesco said. "Led by our senior class, we feel our program culture is in a great place and we are excited to see how our kids compete this fall." DeFrancesco said the Mustangs' offense has tremendous potential. "We have the ability to do a variety of things to keep the defense honest," he said. "We are led by a strong offensive line full of players that have shown incredible commitment throughout the offseason."… Hansen started every game on the offensive line as a junior. "Brandon has tremendous size and strength," DeFrancesco said. "He is a great athlete who moves incredibly well. Brandon has been relentless all off-season and has been a leader throughout offseason activities."…Likewise, Rivas started every game on the defensive line as a 10th grader. "As a sophomore, Julian was an impact player who continued to get stronger as the season went on," DeFrancesco said. "He was a big part of our defensive success last season and, in my opinion, one of the top defensive linemen in the area."


2021 record: 3-6

Coach: Brent Becker

Worth noting: The Patriots have a total of 13 starters back from last year's squad, including the likes of senior lineman Colin Schultz (6-1, 230), junior Ethan Aghakhan (6-2, 220, TE-DL), senior Mike Maloney (6-0, 185, RB-LB) and senior quarterback Matt Projansky (5-9, 170) ... Projansky threw for 1,022 yards and 6 touchdowns last season. "Our quarterback is returning with speed and length on the outside at the wide receiver position," Becker said. "We have experience returning on the line, and the backfield should produce a strong running game as well." ... Other starters back include: Vincent Concialdi (6-3, 155, WR-DB), Tamer Dalloul (6-4, 225, WR-DL), Zachary Goldman (5-9, 175, RB-DB), Remy Herrejon (6-0, 210, OL-DL), Kevin Jimenez (6-1, 210, RB-DL), Gyeongwu Kim (5-9, 155, WR-DB), Keegan Latulippe (5-10, 155, WR-DB), Luca Morelli (5-11, 190, RB-DL) and Nathan Stefanov (6-1, 200, OL-LB). Becker feels Stevenson's defensive line might be its greatest asset. "Our defense is senior dominant," he said. "Younger kids gained a lot of experience last year and that experience will pay off. We can't wait to get out and compete this fall. We have a strong core of returners who gained valuable experience in the spring. Our staff has been impressed with the leadership of our seniors in the offseason and we are excited to see this team play. The NSC is always battle week in and week out. It's a great conference with a lot of tradition of great teams year after year."


2021 record: 9-2

Coach: Bryan McNulty

Worth noting: As veteran Daily Herald sportswriter Mike McGraw deftly passed along the North Suburban Conference title and supremacy runs through Gurnee until someone says otherwise. The Blue Devils have won 28 conference games in a row by an average score of 41-3 - 17 of those victories via shutout. The last team to beat Warren in an NSC game was Zion-Benton by a touchdown in 2017 ... This 2022 Warren version returns 5 starters on offense and 6 on defense, headlined by senior standout Jailen Duffie, who is committed to North Dakota State, along with Justin Kretz (6-1, 210, LB-TE), Cassius Callahan (6-0, 170, SR, DB-WR), Kole Weinberg (6-1, 255, OL-DL), Jaden Turner (6-0, 185, DB), Quentin Reeves (5-9, 170, DB), Cohen Pye (6-0, 255, OL) and Xavier Schild (6-3, 190, TE)…. Duffie, Callahan and Weinberg are returning all-NSC players ... llahan has multiple DII offers, while Weinberg is a three-year starter ... Arizona State baseball commit Adam Behrens (6-4, 200) is back at quarterback after starting there as a sophomore. "The strength of this year's team will be our team speed," McNulty said. "We are very experienced in our secondary and offensive lines. Our quarterback will be a real weapon as well. I like our ability to run and I like our offensive line. Our defense will be young, but fast."


2021 record: 1-8

Coach: Zach Carr

Worth noting: Carr takes over at the helm at Waukegan and has high hopes for the program moving forward. The Bulldogs have 5 starters back on offense and just two on the defensive side. Top returners include seniors Amariah Brown (5-8, 185, RB-FS) and Bryan Lopez (6-0, 230, TE-DE) and sophomore Davion Wright (6-3, 270, G-DE). "We will be young this year, but our young guys are energetic and have committed to changing the culture," Carr noted. "Our sophomore group is full of talent and hard workers and will be playing a lot this year. The team will have a noticeably different demeanor this year and it will be exciting to see the growth the team makes this year. The NSC will continue to be loaded at the top with a couple more teams vying for playoff berths (4 NSC teams made the postseason last year). Warren will continue to be tough with all their speed and excellent line play. Lake Zurich will also be tough this year as they were led by a great group of Juniors last year. Libertyville will be in the mix and it will be interesting to see what Mundelein can do. We are still building, but are looking to be more competitive."

Five players to watch

Jailen Duffie (Warren): This 6-1, 180-pound senior athlete and North Dakota State commit was a Daily Herald All-Area selection as a junior.

Matt Projansky (Stevenson): Returning quarterback for the Patriots threw for more than 1,000 yards as a junior.

Marcel Seipko (Mundelein): Senior linebacker is a three-year varsity starter for Mundelein. "Marcel is a team-first-type player who has been tremendous for our program," coach Vince DeFrancesco said. "He is one of our team captains and someone who has helped move our program to where it is today."

Danny Vuckovic (Lake Zurich): Vuckovic (6-1, 205) earned all-NSC honors last year, connecting on 3 of 4 field-goal attempts, including a long of 49 yards, giving the Bears a major returning presence in the kicking games. "Danny has a big-time leg and is generating a lot of college interest," Bears coach Ron Planz noted.

Trenton VanBoening (Libertyville): VanBoening is committed to Division I Eastern Michigan. "Trenton has great size and has transformed his body to be more athletic and agile this past offseason," Libertyville coach Mike Jones said.

Five can't miss matchups

Sept. 9: Warren at Libertyville. Blue Devils have the league's second- and third-place teams from a year ago on the road this season.

Sept. 9: Stevenson at Lake Zurich: NSC portion of the schedule kicks off with two teams that look to be improved from a year ago.

Sept. 30: Zion-Benton at Waukegan: A battle of the league's two new coaches in Waukegan's Zach Carr and Zion's Macarthur White.

Oct. 14: Warren at Lake Forest. Lake Forest was the only NSC team last year to come within a mile of the defending league champions - 18-14.

Oct. 21: Lake Forest at Mundelein. Interesting stat here, the Mustangs play five of their seven NSC games at home this season. Could this game have playoff implications?

Lake Zurich's Tyler Erkman caught 23 passes for 450 yards and 3 touchdowns last year while intercepting 3 passes on defense. Sandy Bressner/
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