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No. 5 Batavia is banking on two-way star Quinn Urwiler

High school football is struggling all over the country but none of those issues seem to be impacting the enthusiasm in Batavia. The town is still football crazy.

Batavia’s Quinn Urwiler works on offensive plays during practice. Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

High school football is struggling all over the country. Participation numbers are down and there is a huge focus on concussions and CTE issues.

None of that seems to impacting anything in Batavia. The town is still football crazy.

“Our youth program is flourishing,” Bulldogs coach Dennis Piron said. “We have tons of kids playing seventh- and eighth-grade football. Our story isn’t everybody else’s story. Kids are excited about football here.”

Batavia, the Sun-Times preseason No. 5 team, hosts East St. Louis, another football-crazed town, in the first game of the season.

“That will probably be the best regular-season game in the state,” Bulldogs senior Drew Iutzwig said. “It will be a great atmosphere. Once the lights turn on it is a whole different town here.”

East St. Louis has a tremendous traveling fan base and one of the most-talented teams in the state. Batavia, which lost to eventual state champion Nazareth in the Class 7A semifinals last season, returns 11 starters.

Senior running back/linebacker Quinn Urwiler was one of last season’s breakout stars.

“He’s even better now,” Piron said. “He’s fast, he’s dynamic, he’s powerful. I don’t think there is anybody that plays us that isn’t concerned about what he is going to do to them either running the football or on defense. He’s amazing with the stuff he can do.”

Urwiler is joined in the backfield by senior Art Taylor. Both players are in their third season on varsity.

“[Taylor] is of the most underrated players in the state,” Piron said. “He’s an amazing young man and is going to be dynamic and special this season. A lot of people are going to be buzzing about him.”

Batavia is young and inexperienced on both lines, but the size is good and Piron has two massive tight ends in the 6-7 Iutzwig and 6-8 Devin Cheaney.

“I’m expecting a lot out of the offensive line,” Taylor said. “They’ve learned a lot over the summer. They are building confidence and I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do. There is nothing to worry about.”

Two juniors are battling for the starting quarterback spot. Kyle Oroni led the sophomore team to a 9-0 season last year. Vinny Meschi has transferred over from Neuqua Valley.

“We have a good situation at quarterback with good depth,” Piron said. “Both are competing very well. The competition and pressure is good for them both. Being able to hand the ball to Art and [Urwiler] is a pretty good start.”

Safety Sam Barus and senior defensive backs Jackson Williams and Brandon Vines return to lead the defense.

“They are phenomenal football players, very smart and good tacklers,” Piron said. “Very aggressive and understand the game extremely well.”

Piron is also expecting big things from junior linebacker Matt Weerts, the younger brother of graduated star Luke Weerts.

“Just having a role model like Luke has been great,” Weerts said. “I learned so much from him. I’m ready for this. I can’t wait to smack around some kids.”

There was recently a large local controversy over a proposal to have fireworks set off during Batavia football games. A group of boosters was willing to pay for the fireworks and handle them. The community eventually decided against it, but it is an indication of just how special football still is in Batavia.

“We are in a good spot with our kids and our program,” Piron said. “They aren’t just good players, they are solid and down-to-earth young men. What you see is what you get with them and the community and school is proud of that.”

Batavia schedule

Aug. 31 vs. East St. Louis
Sept. 6 at Naperville North
Sept. 13 at Lake Park
Sept. 20 vs. Glenbard North
Sept. 27 at Wheaton-Warrenville South
Oct. 4 at Geneva
Oct. 11 vs. St. Charles East
Oct. 18 at St. Charles North
Oct. 25 vs. Wheaton North