Crete-Monee has look of contender behind stacked ‘D’

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The 2012 season was a historic one for Crete-Monee.

The Warriors produced an undefeated season, which they capped by winning the Class 6A state championship, the first in the program’s history.

Many of the instrumental players — Laquon Treadwell, Lance Lenoir and Marcus Terrell — have graduated. Each of the three was a SouthtownStar All-Area pick. The Warriors even have a new coach in John Konecki, who replaces Jerry Verde, who’s moved on to Marian Catholic.

While some of the names and faces have changed, he Warriors’ talent level hasn’t. Crete-Monee is the No. 3 in the SouthtownStar’s Preseason Football Top 10.

“This is a very good group of kids,” said Konecki, an assistant under Verde. “These kids are not prima donnas. They’re working really hard and aren’t taking anything for granted.”

The Warriors offense garnered most of the headlines in 2012, averaging 38.7 points per game. And while the offense could very well develop into a powerhouse once again, it’s likely the Warriors defense will grab most of the headlines in 2013 — at least in the early going. Nine starters return on the defensive side, led by linebacker Nyles Morgan. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior and returning All-Area selection is the fourth-ranked linebacker in the nation, according to Scout.com.

“This defense can be as good as it wants to be,” Morgan said. “We have all the tools to be successful.”

Other top returning starters on defense include LB Omari Stringer (6-foot, 200), linemen Chris Slayton (6-4, 260) and Rudy Antuna (6-1, 300) and defensive backs Jonathan Draper (6-1, 180) and Deon Benton (5-9, 180).

Keep an eye on senior linebacker Kwante Bright (6-foot, 215) and senior DB Jehari Butler (6-1, 170).

“We have a very talented group on the defensive side,” Konecki said. “I’m just glad I don’t have to face them as an opponent each week.”

The offense is somewhat of a work in progress. That includes at quarterback, where senior Luke Hommes and sophomore Frank Douglas remain in a tight race for starting honors. It’s likely both will play in Friday night’s opener at T.F. South.

“It’s neck and neck,” Konecki said. “We want to see how they’re going to react in front of the crowds. We’ll start off going with a rotation, but ultimately, we’ll end up going with one.”

Whomever gets the nod at quarterback will be handing the ball off to senior Deshaun Smith (5-10, 210), a tough between the tackles runner.

Josh McCaskel, all 6-3, 300 pounds of him, anchors an inexperienced O-line that will include 6-4, 300-pounder Isaac Aye.

When it’s time to go to the air, the Warriors have untapped talents in senior receivers Ray Vallot (6-foot, 185) and Anthony Townsend (6-2, 185) and junior Elijiah Douglas (6-1, 180).

“We should be more two-dimensional this year,” Smith said. “We may have a lot of new faces, but I feel like we’re ready to compete. Going against our defense in practice makes us better.”

Konecki acknowledged the offense may take some time to reach full potential. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when.”

“We have to retool the offensive side,” he said. “Eventually, we’ll get it rocking and rolling.”

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