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No. 4 Maine South eyes another playoff run

Lineman Peter Skoronski is one of the state’s premier talents, but there are new faces all over the defense and in most of the offensive skill positions. 

Maine South’s Michael Valezquez works through a drill.
Maine South’s Michael Valezquez works through a drill.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

It’s hard to justify Maine South’s preseason No. 4 ranking based purely on the returning starters. Lineman Peter Skoronski is one of the state’s premier talents, but there are new faces all over the defense and in most of the offensive skill positions.

However, coach Dave Inserra’s record speaks for itself. The Hawks have made the playoffs for 27 consecutive years and have had just one losing season since 1983.

“This is one of the best coaching staffs in the entire country,” senior Ryan Kilburg said. “We are always prepared.”

If you look a little deeper Maine South actually has more experience back that it initially appears.

“We don’t have a lot of guys returning on defense but we had a solid defense last year so these guys were learning behind guys who knew how to play and practice, tough kids,” Inserra said. “It’s not like they are starting at ground zero. They didn’t get as much playing time but they have had a lot of football practice.”

Junior Luke Leongas will start at quarterback. His brother Nick, now at Johns Hopkins, helped lead the Hawks to the state championship in 2016.

“Luke can throw it,” Inserra said. “He’s very similar to his brother and a year ahead since Nick got hurt and could only play senior year. We are going to throw the ball a lot. I don’t think that is a mystery at Maine South. We have receivers to throw to so he doesn’t have to do it himself.”

Seniors Kilburg and Michael Velazquez provide some experience at receiver. Sophomore Michael Sajenko and senior Johnny Palumbo, a transfer from Montini, will run the ball.

“Sajenko had a great summer for us,” Inserra said. “He’s a tough kid and has nice speed. Palumbo transferred in the middle of the summer so he is still learning. He’s extremely fast, extremely tough and that is a good thing.”

Skoronski, a Northwestern recruit, provides a rock solid foundation on the offensive and defensive line. He’s been encouraged by the new linemen around him on both sides of the ball.

“We may not have a lot back in terms of starters but we have a lot of guys that have been on varsity for awhile, guys that have been learning the system,” Skoronski said. “It may not look on paper like we have a lot of experience but I think we really do.”

The seniors all spoke highly of Leongas, who describes himself as a dual-threat quarterback.

“I learned a lot from my brother for sure,” Leongas said. “I watched the way he worked and the way his team worked.”

Leongas started coming to Maine South football camps in fifth grade.

“It’s just different here compared to other schools,” Leongas said. “We all grow up together and we’ve been playing with each other since we were in kindergarten playing flag football.

The Hawks open the season at Glenbard West. Maine South has beaten the Hilltoppers by a combined score of 98-48 the past two years.

“Last year it was 0-0 at the end of the quarter and then we had a couple of explosive plays,” Inserra said. “[Glenbard West] is so well coached. They have extra incentive obviously. It is just great motivation that the whole offseason you know you have to be ready to play day one in the first game. It is great for the kids to go through the winter knowing what is right in front of them, not three weeks away.”

Maine South schedule

Aug. 31 at Glenbard West
Sept. 6 vs. Mount Carmel
Sept. 13 at Fremd
Sept. 20 vs. Palatine
Sept. 27 at Niles West
Oct. 4 vs. Evanston
Oct. 11 at Glenbrook North
Oct. 18 vs. Glenbrook South
Oct. 25 at New Trier