A year after almost everything that could go wrong did, Young is enjoying a football season where almost everything has gone right.
The Dolphins are back in the IHSA playoffs after a three-year absence and they didn’t sneak in. Young is the only 9-0 team in the 32-team Class 7A field, earning the top seed in the north bracket.
Coach Tim Franken, in his 19th season, saw it coming.
“I expected us to be dominant,” he said. “I think we had everybody returning except for two people.”
That was from a 3-5 team that finished last in the Public League’s Illini Red Bird section in 2012. That lost season included time off because of the teachers’ strike and an on-field altercation against Dunbar that produced a number of suspensions.
Young dropped down to the Chicago Big Shoulders this season and apart from a 6-0 win over fellow IHSA qualifier Schurz, has breezed through a less challenging schedule.
Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for a team that averages around 38 a game. But what stands out are the defensive numbers: Young has six shutouts and has allowed just three touchdowns all season (one on a kickoff return).
The key? “We have a lot of speed on defense,” Franken said. “This may be the fastest team I’ve had here.”
It starts up front with senior Peter Casey (6-3, 205 pounds), a returning all-conference player and Academic All-State selection, along with senior Phillip Rueve (6-2, 195) and junior Bryce Murray (6-0, 250).
The Dolphins also have a solid young linebacking crew in junior Travis Hank (6-2, 180), who moved from free safety after last season, junior Shauntee Colston and sophomore Kendred Belk.
Being rock solid on defense has helped the Dolphins play through a variety of injuries on the other side of the ball.
Junior quarterback David Craan has been out since Week 6 with a shoulder injury and junior running back Noah Hanna (ankle) also has been sidelined. Hanna should be back for the Dolphins’ Class 7A opener against Downers Grove North (5-4) and Craan could return as well.
One player with a name familiar to Public League football fans has helped provide some offensive punch in Craan and Hanna’s absence: sophomore back Miles Baggett.
His brother Terry starred at Young and earlier this month ran for a school-record 304 yards for Army against Eastern Michigan.
Injuries also were a factor in last season’s slide. But Franken drew positives even from those hard days.
“A lot of these juniors who are playing now had an opportunity to play as sophomores,” he said.
They’re still playing, and playing pretty well.