Neuqua Valley coach Bryan Wells believes his team may surprise people.
The Wildcats would have shocked an entire state had they hung on to beat Mt. Carmel in the second round of last year's 8A playoffs.
Between an offense Wells thinks will click and motivation from last year's overtime loss to Mt. Carmel there could be plenty of fire.
"I think our execution offensively is going to be a strength of ours this year," Wells said. "We've got to make sure we get off the field, get the ball back and create good field position."
In other words, by returning only linebacker Sam Norgaard and Michael Ippolito as defensive starters "there's a lot to prove" there, Wells said.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Ippolito has already convinced a legion of college recruiters. After compiling 75 tackles including 16 for loss with 10 sacks, the freight train at defensive end has numerous Mid-American Conference offers; or he could play at Air Force. His presence alone will make defensive teammates better.
Really, except for a few setbacks here and there Neuqua's 3-5 defense hit its stride fairly quickly in program history. This year's model will feature cornerback Emilio Jimenez, linebacker J.D. Blaydes and the other defensive end, Jake Spinell.
Offensively, running back Joey Rhattigan should slash behind returning linemen Brendan Keyes, Ryan Baker and Andrew Geers, and senior center Jeff Borghesi.
Quarterback Nate Boudreau, backup to the graduated Jeff Samuel, draws Wells' comparison to former Wildcat Ken Rice. That's a compliment considering Rice's name is sprinkled among Neuqua's single-season leaders. At 6-4 Boudreau has size Rice lacked.
The first two nonconference games against Naperville North and Naperville Central will indicate what surprises await.
"I'm excited to go into Week 1 because I really like our team," Wells said.
Coach: Bryan Wells (14th year; 66-61).
2010 record: 7-4, 4-2, tied for third in the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division.
Top players: J.D. Blaydes (LB, 6-0, 192, sr.), Nate Boudreau (QB, 6-4, 195, sr.), Danny Dudek (RB, 5-9, 165, jr.), Emilio Jimenez (DB, 6-0, 165, sr.), Michael Ippolito (DE, 6-4, 240, sr.), Shane Langton (WR, 6-2, 180, sr.), Sam Norgaard (RB-LB, 6-1, 215, jr.), Joey Rhattigan (RB, 6-0, 195, jr.), Jake Spinell (6-1, 225, sr.).
Fri, Aug 26 Naperville North 7:30 p.m.
Fri, Sep 2 @ Naperville Central 7:30 p.m.
Fri, Sep 9 St. Charles North 7:30 p.m.
Fri, Sep 16 @ East Aurora 7:30 p.m.
Fri, Sep 23 South Elgin 7:30 p.m.
Fri, Sep 30 Metea Valley 7:30 p.m.
Fri, Oct 7 @ Waubonsie Valley 7:30 p.m.
Fri, Oct 14 Bartlett 7:30 p.m.
Fri, Oct 21 @ Lake Park 7:30 p.m.