Hampshire enters its first season in the Fox Valley Conference's Fox Division with the right attitude.
"It should be fun," said coach Dan Cavanaugh, whose football roster of 32 includes 18 juniors and two sophomores. "There are so many unknowns with our lack of experience and the new conference, but we have a little bit of size and a little bit of depth. I like the way they work together."
The young Whip-Purs won't have the benefit of a soft schedule to get acclimated. but they do play their first three contests at home against rival Burlington Central (3-6), DeKalb (5-5) and new FVC Fox opponent Grayslake Central (6-5).
The first road game comes in Week 4 and it's a doozy an FVC crossover at perennial state contender Cary-Grove (8-4), which begins the season ranked in a tie for fourth in Class 6A.
No one said switching conferences was going to be easy.
"It's a bit of a meat grinder to start, but we've got to play them sometime," Cavanaugh said.
The offense will benefit from the leadership of senior running back Chase Lundry (5-11, 170), now in his third year on varsity. An All-BNC East pick a year ago, Lundry returns to his natural position this season. He filled in at quarterback last season due to an injury to the starter.
Lundry is a hard-nosed rusher who finds seams and gets 5 yards, according to his coach. Last season he carried the ball 102 times for 387 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Hampshire could field a much-improved backfield overall. Senior Nick Antonacci (5-9, 185) returns at fullback. He missed a good portion of last season due to a shoulder injury but made it back for the last couple of games. He and Lundry will be joined by junior running back Tyler Crater (6-1, 185), a talented three-sport athlete who played varsity basketball and varsity baseball as a sophomore.
The new signal caller is mobile junior Kyle Anderson (6-1, 170), who started for the sophomore team last year.
Junior Brendan Waterworth (6-0, 170) returns at wide receiver. He made 6 catches for 87 yards as a sophomore. Anderson's other targets include juniors Ron Laramie (5-8, 170) and Pat Kuefner (5-10, 160).
The offensive line returns its share of varsity experience. Junior Nick Denardo (5-9, 175) returns at center, senior left guard Dalton Ritchey (6-0, 210) started most of last season, senior right guard Jarett McArdle (6-0, 230) started at tackle but moves this year to left guard and junior Grant Bender (6-3, 220) gained some starts as a sophomore. Junior left tackle Phil Lapointe (6-0, 220) rounds out the group.
Senior Cody Ackmann (6-1, 190) was an all-BNC East guard last year. He'll play tight end this season.
"I do feel better about our offensive line going into this year," Cavanaugh said. "I wish as always that we had a little more depth there, but we've got guys who have played before. That will really help Anderson, who I think is going to be a big key for us at quarterback. I think he is going to step up and play."
Defensively, Laramie and Crater will play cornerback with Waterworth and Lundry at safety.
Athletic sophomore Ben Bednarck (5-10, 210) has earned the starting job at middle linebacker. He started on the sophomore team as a freshman last year. Antonacci will also play linebacker with senior K.J. Williams (5-9, 165), junior Tyler Penny (5-9, 190) and Ackmann also in the mix.
Bender, McArdle and senior Zach Oranger (6-0, 250) will likely rotate at defensive tackle. The defensive ends will be Ritchey and another sophomore call-up, Mike Gibas (6-2, 215).
"You never know what you have with the sophomores coming up," Cavanaugh said, "but we worked the sophomores with the varsity in the summer to see if anyone had the potential to play up. (Bednarck and Gibas) have shown they can."