Super 25 football countdown: No. 3 Glenbard West

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Some high school football teams look better in the summer than they do during the actual season.

They go from one 7-on-7 competition to another, where passing is spotlighted and linemen are off on another field pushing sleds and carrying tires.

Teams that like to throw the ball come off well, while clubs whose offenses are run-based may not. So that’s why it couldn’t be good news for Glenbard West’s opponents when the Hilltoppers showed an ability to air it out this summer.

“I think we can throw the ball as well as we’ve ever done here,” coach Chad Hetlet said.

Senior running back Joe Zito, in his third season as a starter, has seen the same thing.

“Our offense looked really good this summer,” Zito said. “I think we have a lot of confidence in our passing game.”

One reason for that is the presence of senior tight end Nathan Marcus, a 6-foot-5, 210-pounder committed to Vanderbilt who figures to be one of quarterback Henry Haeffner’s prime targets.

But at the end of the day, the Hilltoppers — No. 3 in the Sun-Times’ preseason Super 25 — won’t be changing their identity. “We’re always known as a running school,” Zito said.

Kendall Johnson, who figured to be the featured returning back, was dismissed from the team during the offseason. But there are still plenty of talented runners to take handoffs from Haeffner.

One is Zito and another is junior fullback Devante Toney. Then there’s junior Scott Andrews, who scored 25 touchdowns for Glenbard West’s sophomores last year. “He’s a kid who can do a number of different things for us,” Hetlet said of Andrews. “We’re going to have to try to find a way to get the ball into his hands.”

The Hilltoppers’ run game wouldn’t go anywhere without some good men up front. “Historically, we have been outstanding on the offensive line,” said Hetlet, whose veterans in that unit include Nick Garland, Jake Brodner and Max Bruere.

There is talent and experience on the defensive side as well. End Ruben Dunbar (6-3, 235) has multiple offers from the likes of Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State and Iowa, while Erik Strittmater is a third-year starter at linebacker and Joe Marconi is a returning regular there. Junior safety Heyden Carlson is an impact player back in the secondary.

The Hilltoppers have won 45 games in the past four seasons and were second in Class 7A in 2009. But they’re coming off their shortest playoff run in that span, a second-round exit vs. Lake Zurich.

That has sparked a renewed sense of purpose, according to Zito and his coach.

“Our bar is really high this year,” Zito said. “We have a lot of depth in our two [older] classes. My class is undefeated [in the regular season] in high school, the junior class went 8-1 as freshmen and sophomores.”

“I think if we stay healthy we could be as good as we’ve ever been,” Hetlet said.

And they could look even better than they did in the summer.

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