Time for pigskin prognostication

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High school football practices begin all over the state Wednesday, marking the official start of the 2013 season.

Much has changed on the local landscape since last fall, and with opening night quickly approaching Aug. 30, there are plenty of questions worth pondering as football returns to center stage.

Which new coach’s team is in best position to succeed?

There was plenty of upheaval in the coaching ranks during the offseason with more than a quarter of the teams in the Elgin area getting new leaders. Kyle Rohde takes over for Dave Bierman at Elgin, Pat Pistorio replaces Dale Schabert at South Elgin, Mark Orszula follows Cal Cummins at Streamwood and Rob Pomazak succeeds Mark Gould at St. Charles North.

Of the teams with new coaches, St. Charles North appears to have the best shot at a big season as Pomazak looks to bring a jolt of energy to a North Stars team that finished 4-5 last season and missed the playoffs for the third straight year.

It doesn’t hurt that Pomazak, a former Elk Grove assistant, has a pair of Division I recruits returning to the fold. Offensive lineman Chase Gianacakos (Michigan State) and tight end Garrett Johnson (Ball State) headline St. Charles North’s experienced roster.

Who are the top local players to watch?

Gianacakos and Johnson certainly belong on the list of the area’s top returning players along with St. Charles East receiver Brannon Barry, another Division-I prospect.

Jacobs senior Bret Mooney threw for 2,102 yards and 17 touchdowns last season and headlines the list of local starting quarterbacks returning this season. South Elgin’s Rob Cuda, Larkin’s Kemmerin Blalark, Elgin’s Ryan Sitter, St. Charles North’s Erik Miller and St. Charles East’s Jimmy Mitchell are also back under center this year.

St. Edward running back Davontae Elam is a four-year varsity member who ranks as one of the area’s top playmakers. Other can’t-miss skill position players are Jacobs receiver Hunter Williams, Larkin running back Damion Clemons and Elgin running back Jaylen Clemons.

South Elgin linebacker Nate Marotta, St. Charles East linebacker Michael Candre and St. Charles North linebacker Reece Conroyd are among the top defensive players to watch. St. Edward’s Collin Holte and St. Charles East’s Ben Smith are two of the top returning linemen.

Do any area teams have a shot at a deep playoff run?

Jacobs and Huntley could be poised to take a step forward after suffering tough losses in the first round of the state playoffs last year, but first they need to navigate the challenges that await in the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division, which once again figures to rank as one of the toughest leagues in the state.

St. Charles East and St. Charles North also have the postseason in their sights. Both teams are loaded with talent and could be prime candidates to make some noise in November.

Lastly, don’t count out St. Edward. Coach Mike Rolando thinks this might be the deepest team during his nine-year tenure, and the Green Wave could do some damage at the Class 4A level if it can scratch out five wins during its final season as a member of the ultra-competitive Suburban Christian Blue.

Which teams might surprise this year?

Larkin is loaded at the skill positions with speedsters Donte Bonds and Jarelle Shipp joining Blalark and Clemons as returning players with big upsides. The Royals are coming off a 2-7 finish in 2012 and figure to be scrappy as usual, but they will need to avoid the health woes and depth issues that have plagued them in the past if they want to end their six-year playoff drought.

Another wild card is Westminster Christian, which thinks it can compete in its first varsity season despite having a roster made up of mostly sophomores and freshmen. The Warriors do have some talent in the fold, and don’t be shocked if they hang tough in the Northeastern Athletic and contend for a spot in the Class 1A playoffs.

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