Naperville Central looks for defensive improvement

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Naperville Central did not beat a team with a winning record last year.

If they expect to make the playoffs for the second time in four years, as well as contend for a DuPage Valley Conference title, the Redhawks will have to this year.

“We know with our schedule and conference that you have to be a quarterfinal team just to make the playoffs,” Naperville Central coach Mike Stine said. “We didn’t make the playoffs (last year) but I still thought we were a Top 25 team.

“We played Glenbard North, who made it the Class 8A title game, Neuqua Valley got to the semifinals, and Waubonsie Valley and Wheaton North got to the quarterfinals. We know you have to beat the caliber of those teams.”

The Redhawks proved unable to stop the bigger, stronger offensive teams last season. They surrendered 33.8 points per game in their five losses while they only yielded 6.75 points in their four wins.

A team can’t expect to be victorious very often if it needs to score five touchdowns every Friday night.

“We like our team defensively,” Stine said. “We’re not overly big, but we’re athletic and believe we’ll cause some problems for some teams.”

Stine expects better results from his defense, even though the unit lost Luke Roth to graduation. Roth led the team with 96 tackles. The Redhawks welcome back returning starters Jake Woolridge and Bobby McMiller at linebacker, defensive backs Dillon Grooss and Johnny Lunonza and defensive lineman Cole Woolridge.

“Obviously, we’re going to have to be strong in all phases,” Stine said. “We can’t just be a great offense and a lackluster defense or the other way around. There are some great offensive players in our league but we like our defense.”

The Redhawks also should give opponents problems with a potent offensive attack led by senior quarterback Jack Kolbe (1,623 passing yards, 12 TDs) and wide receiver Ben Andreas (36 catches, 614 yards, 7 TDs).

Junior Mike Kolzow and senior Tyler Schmidt also are receiving threats, while Tyler Joyce, Kevin Clifford and Nolan Davis make up a formidable backfield behind an all senior offensive line of Jake Angona, Ryan Minick, Alex Peterson and Brendon and Luke Daley.

“We’re very excited about what we can do this year with the players we have returning,” Kolbe said. “We had a lot of motivation in the off-season because we missed the playoffs. We’re working harder to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

If the Redhawks can stay relatively healthy and avoid turnovers, they should be competitive every week.

“We need to stay away from turnovers and for our playmakers to make plays,” Stine said. “If Jake can stay healthy he’s going to cause a lot of problems for opposing team’s defenses.

“I like this team a lot. They did a lot of hard work in the offseason, are a close-knit group and are fun to be around.”

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