At first glance it appears Streamwood has the pieces in place to build off last year’s breakthrough season.
The Sabres posted a 6-4 record and made their first playoff appearance since 2002 last fall. Three All-Upstate Eight River honorees return from that team, and the threesome doesn’t even include 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior receiver Blake Holder, who committed to Northern Illinois during the offseason.
While the wealth of returning talent certainly bodes well for Streamwood, a closer look shows a return to the postseason is no guarantee.
The Sabres struggled against UEC River powers Batavia and Geneva last year, and both teams figure to pose a challenge again this season. Waubonsie Valley replaces East Aurora as Streamwood’s UEC crossover opponent, and foes such as Larkin, St. Charles East and St. Charles North all should be improved.
The road to five or six wins won’t be easy, but the Sabres are well aware the payoff is a consecutive trip to the playoffs, something that hasn’t happened at Streamwood since 1987-88.
“Back-to-back berths here would obviously be a great stepping stone for us,” Streamwood coach Cal Cummins said. “I’d like to hope we can compete a little bit better with those upper-level teams with this veteran group.”
Senior AJ Mitchell (6-0, 264) was named to the All-UEC River team for his efforts at offensive tackle last year, and he returns to anchor the offensive and defensive lines. On defense he’ll be joined up front by senior nose guard Kyle Strong (6-0, 188) and senior Trent McCaw (6-4, 220), who had a big game in Streamwood’s first-round playoff loss to Crystal Lake South.
Senior linebacker Vince Williams (6-1, 234) is another returning All-UEC River honoree, and he headlines a strong group in the middle of the defense that includes seniors Mike Murawski (6-2, 202), Kushtrim Berisha (5-11, 181) and Tyler Hendershot (6-0, 196).
The defensive secondary also boasts plenty of experience and talent. Senior Austin Mugnai (5-10, 175) is an All-UEC River honoree who is back in the mix along with Holder and senior Deji Giwa (6-0, 175). Junior Lenard Brown (5-10, 176) will also contribute as a defensive back.
There were some notable losses to graduation on offense, most notably three-year starting quarterback Dalton Lundeen. Senior Jordan McFeggan (6-2, 180) chipped in at defensive back last year and is a candidate to take over quarterback duties, as is junior Mason Polich (6-1, 221), a transfer from Wheaton Warrenville South.
“They are different types of individuals, and I think both are going to help us,” Cummins said.
Whichever quarterback sees the majority of snaps will have a plethora of targets to work with at receiver. Holder, Mugnai and Giwa all displayed big-play ability last year, and the arrival of sophomore Noah Polich (5-10, 161), younger brother of Mason Polich, only adds to the talent level.
Williams, Strong and Brown will share time carrying the load at running back while Murawski joins Mitchell as a returning starter on the offensive line.
Streamwood opens the season Friday at Hoffman Estates, and Cummins hopes to see a sense of urgency from his team from the opening kick.
“With this group the biggest thing is going to be their leadership,” Cummins said. “Are guys going to stand up? They’ve had a tendency a little bit during the offseason to sit back and let somebody else step forward.
“There’s a lot of kids with experience, a lot of kids with playing time. They’re a veteran group. They’ve just got to act like it.”