Jake Schultz saw something last fall he doesn’t want to see again: a Wheaton Warrenville South football season that ended before the playoffs.
It was a rare sight for one of the premier programs in the state. The Tigers, who had played in five of the previous six state finals, missed the postseason for only the second time in 25 years.
‘‘We experienced that loss,’’ Schultz, a senior defensive back, said of the season-ending defeat to rival Wheaton North that left WW South with a 4-5 record. ‘‘We saw how devastated the seniors were last year. We told ourselves there’s no way that’s going to happen to us.’’
Getting back to the IHSA playoffs is the top priority for the Tigers, who are No. 25 in the Sun-Times’ preseason Super 25. They even structured their summer schedule to include a trip to Northern Illinois in DeKalb for a 7-on-7 event. It’s no coincidence that will be the site of the state finals in November, with NIU now alternating with Memorial Stadium in Champaign as host sites for the title games.
There’s a lot of football to be played between now and then, and WW South has been working overtime to get ready for it. The Tigers had their own 7-on-7, which drew many of the premier programs in the state, and also went to events at Notre Dame, Downers Grove South and Bolingbrook.
There are reasons for the busy summer. For one, WW South’s schedule is tough from the get-go, with an opener against defending Class 7A champ Glenbard West and a Week 2 trip to Class 8A
powerhouse Maine South.
‘‘We’ll find out if we’re for real really quick,’’ Tigers coach Ron Muhitch said.
And passing competitions were crucial for this team, in particular.
‘‘We’re relatively young, meaning inexperienced, in some of the key positions of receiver and defensive back,’’ Muhitch said.
WW South does have a veteran quarterback in Ryan Graham, who has been playing on the varsity since the Tigers went to the
Class 7A final in 2011.
‘‘Graham looks a lot better,’’ Schultz said.
Muhitch said he ‘‘thought [Graham] had a pretty good summer in terms of competition and decision-making. Now he has to do it on the field [in the regular season].’’
Graham can run when it’s needed. When he throws, he has a variety of options, including 6-1, 190-pounder Savone Carter, speedy Dan Sveen and two-sport athlete Keishawn Watson (basketball).
‘‘We do have a lot of good talent at wide receiver,’’ Schultz said. ‘‘Very quick, great hands. Just guarding them in practice gets the defense prepared for the DVC [DuPage Valley Conference] and other teams in the state.’’
On defense, WW South has some experience in the backfield with Schultz, Thomas Cetina and Robert Zablock and at linebacker with Joseph Kazar (a Bucknell lacrosse recruit), Joe Machalek and Matt Brocious.
What all this adds up to remains to be seen.
‘‘I think we’re going to be a little bit of an unknown just because [of] coming off a 4-5 year,’’ Muhitch said.
Unknown or perhaps underdog?
‘‘We’re working hard to come out and prove everyone wrong,’’ Schultz
said. ‘‘Everyone is down on the
Tigers. No one is really counting on us to do anything this year.’’
But the Tigers’ plan is to change some minds between now and Thanksgiving.