Naperville Central Football is coming off a fantastic season and the Redhawks now don a new coach for the first time in almost a decade. This preview is presented by BMO Harris Bank.
Just four months ago, the Naperville Central Football team played only a 6 game season after the IHSA and IDPH pushed the high risk sport to from the fall to the spring because of the COVID 19 pandemic.
As we hit late August the Redhawks are back on the gridiron ready for a traditional fall season. Many familiar faces return to the Hawks Nest but there are big shoes to fill on the sidelines following the retirement of legendary Head Coach Mike Stine. The new sheriff in town is actually a familiar face for the Redhawk program, Mike Ulreich. A long time defensive coordinator for the Red and White, Ulreich is now ready to overlook both sides of the pigskin.
“I think one of the things being very familiar with defense is you know certain things that we’re trying to do how does that put a defense in conflict or how that might give a defenders eyes trouble, so I think with this side of the ball is trying to put things in with the mindset of how could this give the defense a difficult time defending” “Coach Ulreich likes to make things very high tempo during practice and kind of make everything game speed so I think we all have enjoyed that because it feels the most realistic most similar to a game, so we’ve all been enjoying coach Ulreich being the head coach now”
One of the major returning faces is quarterback Owen Prucha who played all 6 games and passed for 15 touchdowns his junior season. As the 6-foot senior steps under center, he is confident in what he sees along the line of scrimmage.
“It’s awesome to have guys that were starting last year and contributing to the team back like Max Grumbles on the O Line you know Reggie they’re all great guys to have around they’re definitely gonna help contribute again just like last season so super excited to play with them again”
One of his favorite returning targets is Northwestern commit, wide receiver Reggie Fleurima. An All-State caliber talent caught six touchdowns as a junior and is looking to increase those numbers in the fall.
“I’ve been playing with him and overall, it’s been a great experience and I think this year is gonna be even better we have good chemistry and I’m looking forward to displaying that on Friday nights.”
The Red and White return running back and defensive back Niko Gordon, who picked up valuable starting experience in the sping. It’s not easy being a two-way player but the Redhawk will do anything to help his team win.
“I think some of the benefitd are I can just fit in wherever I’m needed and that I’m flexible enough that I can do both things efficiently and I work on both so that whenever I’m needed to play each position I can play”
On the other side of the ball, the Hawks return many players on defense who gave up only 61 points in 6 games and at least had one take away every week. One of the key contributors is Ryan Wojcik who led the team with 3 picks in the shortened season. While the ball hawk is ready for a stellar senior year, practicing against this Redhawk offense will help the defense succeed this fall.
“Yeah it helps a lot you know going up against good receivers everyday like Reggie and Tristan and Justin helps, helps the secondary and then going against like great running backs you know helps with our tackling just running hard everyday really helps us”
As coach Ulreich gets used to being the head of the program, he believes that the Redhawks will come together in big way as week 1 approaches.
“we’re gonna focus on who we are and what we believe in and we’re gonna focus on practicing as well as we possibly can, and the results really take care of themselves when that’s the focus”
And that focus to start the year is towards Hinsdale Central, a team that has beaten the Hawks by just one possession in the last two meetings. The Hawks also face a powerhouse Lincoln-Way East in the early going and hope to compete for the conference championship for a third time since 2015.
“when you play great teams they help expose where your weak not just the players but in your schemes and in your fundamentals you really understand what you need to get better at and so I think it’s over the year helped us get better as the season has gone along when we get to the playoffs to be very competitive in that second season”
The Redhawks appear well prepared to get back to that second season for the first time since 2018, but in the meantime that first season awaits. Reporting for Naperville Sports Weekly, I’m Patrick Codo.
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