This season No. 9 Wheaton North has the ultimate weapon: a third-year starting quarterback.
Holy Cross recruit Mark Forcucci was one of the keys to the Falcons’ 5-1 finish in the spring. He threw for 919 yards with 12 touchdowns and just one interception during the abbreviated season.
“When you have that trigger guy as a returner you feel like you have a chance to be pretty good,” Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski said. “[Running back] Brayton Maske is also a guy that was up and played a lot as a sophomore and we have veterans back on the offensive line. The defense was very solid last year so we’re optimistic.”
The Falcons were unranked to start the spring. They opened with dominant wins against Glenbard North and Lake Park and then knocked off district rival Wheaton Warrenville South, which turned plenty of heads.
Wheaton North then lost 14-12 on the road at St. Charles North, but finished the season with a 16-7 win against conference heavyweight Batavia.
“We knew going into the spring that we had a very talented group of guys,” Forcucci said. “But I think it was just kind of with COVID we got a longer time than usual to build camaraderie with each other and build chemistry. That really helped a lot. We’re just looking to carry all that momentum over into this season.”
Wide receiver Seth Kortenhoeven and tight end Casey Morrison are both returning starters and three veterans are back on the offensive line: senior Greg Fotinopoulos, senior Adrian Hible and junior Nathaniel Stevens.
The Falcons will enter the season as the favorites in the DuKane Conference for the first time in recent memory.
“We haven’t talked about that too much,” Wardynski said. “The kids are confident and they feel good about where we are at. But we had some tight games last year that could have gone either way. We’re certainly not in a position to look past anybody. But it’s better to have high expectations than to feel like you’re going to have to scramble to put things together to have a good year.
Four starters return on defense for Wheaton North, which held four of its six opponents to seven points or fewer last year.
The win against Batavia to close out the season was at NIU. It was as close as any team in the state had to something resembling a playoff atmosphere.
“It definitely felt as close to a playoff game as you could get then,” Forcucci said. “That was beneficial to us, getting that little bit of experience at least.”
Knocking off Batavia and Wheaton Warrenville South has earned the Falcons some respect. The program has a rich history, winning state titles in 1980, 1982 and 1987.
“People have definitely been thinking about us differently now,” Maske said. “I feel like I get a little bit more respect now, being a Wheaton North football player, than I did before.”
WHEATON NORTH SCHEDULE
Aug. 27 at Downers Grove South
Sep. 3 vs. Providence
Sep. 10 at Batavia
Sep. 17 vs. St. Charles North
Sep. 24 vs. Lake Park
Oct. 1 at Glenbard North
Oct. 8 at Wheaton Warrenville South
Oct. 15 at Geneva
Oct. 22 at St. Charles East