No. 8 Warren out to prove it is ‘not a team to mess with’

Defense is king in Gurnee. Coach Bryan McNulty’s defense at Warren is one of the most dependably dominant units in the state every season.

SHARE No. 8 Warren out to prove it is ‘not a team to mess with’
Warren’s offensive linemen hit the sled to work on blocking technique during practice.

Warren’s offensive linemen hit the sled to work on blocking technique during practice.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Defense is king in Gurnee. Coach Bryan McNulty’s defense at Warren is one of the most dependably dominant units in the state every season.

So pay attention when McNulty says this about his team’s line play: ‘‘It’s as solid a group as we’ve had. They are pretty good, especially the defensive line. The offensive line is younger but really coming together. We have good depth and some recruitable-type kids.’’

The Blue Devils, who are ranked No. 8 in the preseason Super 25, generally complement that stellar defense with some breakout talent at the skill positions. In the preseason, at least, that doesn’t appear to be the case this season.

‘‘This year, we have a bunch of guys that are from here, born and raised,’’ lineman Aidan Porreca said. ‘‘They didn’t move here just to play football. This is going to be a real Warren team. This isn’t one of the biggest teams we’ve had, but it is one of the strongest. And one of the toughest mentally.’’

There is a glint in the eye and a chip on the shoulder of all of Warren’s senior leaders. They appear to be relishing life without a superstar player.

‘‘People think this is the year to beat Warren,’’ offensive lineman Jaivin Young said. ‘‘I’m going to reassure everyone that is not the case. We are not a team to mess with.’’

Senior Donovan McNeal is a force at linebacker and will be a factor on offense, as well. Senior Nate Foster takes over at quarterback. McNulty says the 5-9, 145-pound track star has a deceptively strong arm.

‘‘[Foster] is smart, athletic and tough,’’ McNulty said.

He already has earned the confidence of his teammates.

‘‘Foster can turn anything into something,’’ Porreca said. ‘‘He’ll have pressure coming at him from every direction possible and still get a 20-yard run out of it.’’

Another multisport standout is expected to have a breakout season for the Blue Devils. Sophomore Aaron Stewart, an extremely talented wrestler, will be the starting tailback.

‘‘He’s an All-American wrestler, and that’s what everyone sees him as,’’ Porreca said. ‘‘I have a feeling he’s going to come out and shock a lot of people.’’

Warren’s Donovan McNeal works through a drill during practice.

Warren’s Donovan McNeal works through a drill during practice.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Senior Joey Devries and junior David O’Connell join Young and Porreca on the offensive line. Junior Anthony Soto and seniors Antonio Johnson-Williams and Jeremija Hixson round out the dominant defensive line.

Eight starters are back on defense and six on offense from a squad that finished 10-2 last season. The Blue Devils lost to Lincoln-Way East in the Class 8A quarterfinals.

‘‘When you have young kids, you don’t know . . . how they are really going to go,’’ McNulty said. ‘‘That first game speed, are they going to be ready for that?’’

Warren’s schedule is front-loaded, opening with Barrington and Maine South. It might take a few games for all the new faces to acclimate, but expect the Blue Devils to be a significant force by playoff time.

‘‘There is definitely a chip on our shoulder,’’ Young said. ‘‘We have leaders, and we are going to make sure to help the young guys out. We are all Warren kids, no big transfers. And, yeah, that’s kinda fun.’’

Warren schedule

Aug. 25 at Barrington

Aug. 31 vs. Maine South

Sept. 8 vs. Libertyville

Sept. 14 vs. Stevenson

Sept. 22 at Lake Zurich

Sept. 29 vs. Mundelein

Oct. 6 at Waukegan

Oct. 13 vs. Lake Forest

Oct. 20 at Zion-Benton

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