Bartlett coach Tom Meaney believes this year's experienced, talented team compares to his 2008 squad, which won 12 straight games and advanced to a Class 8A semifinal before falling to eventual champion Maine South.
"They could be just as good, they definitely could," Meaney said of the 2011 Hawks, who are coming off an 8-3 season in which they shared the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division title with Waubonsie Valley. "Anytime you have four linebackers back, five really, you're fairly solid up front and you have quick defensive backs like we have, you have a strong group."
And that's just the defense.
Bartlett's roster includes five players entering their third varsity season: linebackers Mike Partyka (6-2, 220) and Kevin Kirchhoff (5-10, 225), defensive end Ryan McCord (6-0, 225) quarterback AJ Bilyeu (6-3, 185) and wide receiver Zach Karys (6-0, 180). Partyka and Kirchhoff were named to the all-UEC Valley team, as were Bilyeu and Karys, who connected 35 times for 778 yards.
The fleet-footed Bilyeu, who committed to Air Force over the summer, is the first quarterback in the 13-year-old program's history to play the position for three seasons. Last year he completed 101 of 157 passes for 1,437 yard and 19 touchdowns.
"At times in camp he looks awesome," Meaney said. "Now it's just time for him to calm down and find the wide-open person. He has such a strong arm and likes to throw deep instead of underneath sometimes.
"Because he's already played for two years, he got a lot of his bad traits out of the way. He's making good decisions. I'm pleased with his progress."
Bilyeu's backup will be either Steve Hrbacek (5-11, 170), Kyle Garcia (5-11, 165) or Alex Burda (6-0, 180), all juniors.
The Hawks are deep at running back. Returning are seniors Nate Odisho (5-9, 210) and Andrew Martinec (5-10, 175), but promising sophomore James Butler (5-9, 175), quick junior Aaron Everson (5-11, 185) and senior A.J. Johnson (5-8, 155) will each get carries. Senior Nate Massey (5-10, 210) returns at fullback.
Joining Karys at receiver are seniors Lorenzo Williams (6-2, 185) and Sean Blazier (5-6, 135) and junior Justin Blanchett (6-3½, 195).
Starting left tackle Kevin Bauers (6-3, 260) and starting left guard Tyler Bernat (6-1, 280) return. They are joined by center Nick Antolik (6-2, 245), tackle Jon Foston (6-4, 255) and guard Ryan Gray (6-1, 250). All are seniors.
Backup linemen likely to gain playing time include juniors George Danek (6-3, 240), Ryan Bauers (5-10, 180), Kyle Pauletti (5-11, 195), Brian Prohaska (5-11, 215) and Neil O'Connor (6-0, 205).
Tight end Lorenzo Mitchell (6-3, 230) played two varsity seasons at Streamwood. Also seeing time at the position will by juniors Nick Mazzei (5-11, 215) and Kevin Pashawitz (6-1, 175).
Defensively, outside linebackers Tyler Hess (5-9, 185) and Tyler Barlass (6-1, 210) and inside linebacker Demetrius Coleman (6-0, 210) each started at least four games last year. Junior Vince Caruso (5-9, 170) and Kevin Krause (5-11, 170) will also be in the rotation.
At defensive tackle will be seniors Brian McKeague (5-10, 200) and James Chang (5-10, 205) and junior Nick Selig (5-10, 160). Juniors Edgar Flores (5-9, 205) and Arthur Swanson (5-9, 185) will also see the field.
Joining McCord at defensive end are prospect Will Spoerl (6-4, 205), whose father played football at the University of Michigan, and Chris Kantzavelos (6-3, 230). Spoerl started a playoff game against Maine South as a sophomore. Mitchell and Fremd transfer Andrew Guerrero (6-2, 215) will rotate in.
The secondary is deep and fast. Personnel will change based on situations, Meaney said, but Karys, Butler, Johnson and Williams will all play in the defensive backfield. Others manning the secondary will include seniors Nick Krolikowski (6-0, 175), Nick Simich (5-8, 155) and Carlos Giraldo (5-8, 155), juniors Alex Bailey (5-7, 145), Kyle Garcia (5-11, 165), Mitch Reid (6-4, 195) and Nick Garcia (5-11, 175).
Ian Dobek (6-0, 180) returns at kicker. The senior's field goal ranges to 50 yards out and he can stymie opposing kick returners by booting the ball to the end zone for touchbacks.
"We were really pleased with camp and doubles," Meaney said. "We're ready to go. Everybody says it, but truthfully we're just stressing that we want to get better every week."