Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The big news yesterday... Illinois high school football was that Mount Carmel running back Matt Domer will be joining Neuqua Valley wide receiver Mikey Dudek, above, at the University of Illinois next year. 

Domer became the eighth member of the 2014 Illini recruiting class, joining other in-state seniors Malik Turner of Sacred Heart-Griffin and Nick Allegretti of Lincoln-Way East

Sounds like Illini coach Tim Beckman has the nucleus of a pretty good freshman class!

But it also made me wonder: How will Coach Bill Ellinghaus's Wildcats be in the wake of last year's thrilling 12-1 season? 

Neuqua, you may recall, defeated both Naperville schools by lopsided scores (North twice), archrival Waubonsie Valley narrowly, twice, and defending 8A champion Bolingbrook before falling to the Caravan at home in the semifinal.

(I was at those last two games, by the way. I went first to Bolingbrook and then out to Naperville to see the home teams prevail and was wrong both times. Oh, well.)

So I asked a friend in Naperville, who is very well-connected to the Neuqua football program, to give me his thoughts on the 2013 Wildcats. Here's his report, lightly edited:

As for Neuqua this year, man they have a lot to replace from last year! 

On the plus side, they have Mikey Dudek coming back, who's good enough to carry the offense. The fullback in their base offensive set should be T. J. Scruggs, who was a bruising blocker and could/should get more touches in 2013. 

The quarterback position is wide open with at least three seniors and a junior competing for the spot. The junior could be the best fit physically out of the bunch, just based on my eye. 

The entire offensive line, however, from tackle to tackle needs to be replaced. I'm not familiar with who will step in there, so we'll just have to see.

The strength of Neuqua should be in their receiving corps. Obviously Dudek will lead the way, but Ryan Kuhl and Nathan Hill both return, and each played meaningful minutes and made strong contributions last year. Kuhl is a big kid, at 6'4", 185 or so, and will be someone to keep an eye on in terms of recruiting. He'll be in the shadow of Dudek, but certainly a solid player.

On the defensive side of the ball, Neuqua has some strength on the line and possibly at the linebacker spot too. But again, most of last year's starters graduated, leaving many holes to fill. The good news is, this year's senior class had success at the freshman and sophomore levels so there's reason to think that will continue in 2013.  

Last year, you knew the Wildcats were going to give the ball to Joey Rhattigan a ton and then go deep over the top to Dudek in order to make big plays and keep defenses honest. Now, however, I think they're going to have to find creative ways to get the ball into Dudek's hands, instead of just sending him on deep posts and out-and-up routes. I could see them using bubble screens more, for easy throws from the quarterback, and then let Dudek use his speed to make plays on the perimeter. He is a NIGHTMARE to bring down in any amount of open space! Heck, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Dudek line up in the backfield in some packages and see what he can do from there.

As far as the schedule and conference, Neuqua will host Naperville North and then travel to Central for the first two games. Within the conference, I expect the usual suspects to be tough opponents, like Waubonsie, Bartlett and South Elgin. I would think Neuqua should do well against East Aurora, Matea and West Chicago

The momentum is huge for this program right now and I hope it continues for this year. From where I sit, the Wildcats have a playoff-caliber team, maybe with a record of 7-2 or 6-3. I think Central will be a tough opponent, and I would expect a loss from the group of better programs I cited above.

And here's the kicker: 

Oh yeah, and Jon Rhattigan suits up for the freshman squad this year.  Keep an eye on him!

Here's a look at Neuqua's 2013 schedule, with last year's records in parentheses:

Aug. 30 Naperville North (5-5) 

Sept. 6 @ Naperville Central (4-5)
Sept. 13 South Elgin (4-5) 
Sept. 20 St. Charles East (6-4)
Sept. 27 @ East Aurora (0-9) 

Oct. 4 @ Metea Valley (2-7)
Oct. 11 Waubonsie Valley (10-2), at North Central College
Oct. 18 West Chicago (0-9) 
Oct. 25 @ Bartlett (7-4)

Go Wildcats!

No comments: