Naperville Central has some big shoes to fill this year but Coach Stine and his team leaders believe they can get back to the playoffs and go further.
As the school year begins the stands at Naperville Central remain empty until September 6th as the Redhawks will compete in their first home game against Lincoln-Way East.
After a second round playoff exit last season, the two-time defending DVC champions have few returning starters in 2019 but head coach Mike Stine believes it’s next man up for the senior class.
Stine, “We traditionally are a senior dominated football program and juniors don’t play a lot and sometimes we have guys that people don’t know a lot about but they’re really good players and I think that’s gonna be the case this year, we’re gonna have some senior names that people won’t know a lot about but they’re gonna be on how good of football players they are”
Central has produced many good quarterbacks in the past but this year the Redhawks will be throwing a quarterback under center who will take his first varsity snap on August 30th and that player is Sam Jackson.
The second year transfer from Bolingbrook played wide receiver last year, hauling in bombs from quarterback Payton Thorne. This year as the signal caller Jackson believes he can get his receivers on the right page, “I can teach my receivers where I want them to be at and how to get open some things off the line and like different routes that we can run and stuff like that.”
Stine thinks Jackson’s ability at quarterback will be a big factor this fall, “That’s his natural position his quarterback skills are off the charts he can make all the throws, his football IQ being able to play along side and with Payton last year. I know absorbed a lot from Payton and it’s been exciting everyday to just watch Sam grow as a player and as a person and I think he’s going to have an exciting season.”
Despite the team losing key players from last year the Redhawks added in some talented transfers at wide receiver including Reggie Fluerima from Naperville North, Keon Green from Bloom, and former Marist wideout Jadon Thompson. His new teammate Jackson thinks this will be a big boost.
“I think we have taken that pretty well with the people that had their position set already and the transfers came in and they kinda like moved basically helped move us around and stuff like that it’s really gonna take some time to develop even though I have a couple great weapons but I’m really excited for it.”
“It brings us together we’ll connect more and he teaches me the way he ran his routes last year for this offense so I’m learning from him and he’s teaching me how he will throw it and how it will be.”
“Obviously last year we watched him on film we got to see him in person in the playoff game against Marist he scored two touchdowns in the game that we lost to Marist.”
If Naperville Central had an Achilles heel from last season it would be keeping high-powered offenses out of the End zone. Although senior safety Michael Wood thinks this years team can surprise everyone.
“We’re not the biggest defense that’s the eye test though but when you look at us when we’re playing you’ll all 11 hats to the football every play hustling to the ball no missed tackles just fundamental stuff.”
“The more we stick together and try than have one guy be the hero for us we have 11 guys on each side of the ball that are going to make plays for us and guys that are going to come in and don’t start the game we expect everyone’s going to make plays and step up in the moment.”
Along with Wood senior cornerback Marrie Moore believes that practicing against this offense will give Naperville Central a huge advantage going into the season, “I expect a lot of picks get to the quarterback quick get the quarterback to get the ball out quick so we go get those.”
“We practice against some of the best guys in the State so when it’s time to play them the other teams just bring the dog out of here.”
Along with the defensive back position Stine thinks that all eleven players can make some noise, “I think our defensive line is maybe gonna be a strength this year with Angelo Eklou will play inside for us Sean Key and Nolan Nanninga are both long defensive ends that have had great summers were you excited to see what they can do and we got some younger kids that are gonna be juniors that had great sophomore seasons last year I think they’re gonna fill nicely at the linebacker spot.”
After finishing last season with a record of 6-3 the Redhawks know if they want to win a conference title and get back to the State title game they will play through another challenging schedule.
“We know if we can get through our schedule that we play we’ll be prepared to make a run in the playoffs and we’ll open with Hinsdale Central on the 30th and we know they’re going to be a huge challenge and we’re looking forward to that opportunity.”
Along with Hinsdale Central, Naperville Central will also face perennial title contender Lincoln-Way East followed by a road trip to Ohio to take on Pickerington Central before opening up conference play against Metea Valley.
“We’ve played a tough schedule for a lot of years here that’s always kinda been our philosophy we’ll play whoever we can wherever we need to play them and you know our goal is to contend for the conference championship win 5 or 6 games to get in the playoffs to make a run for the State championships.”
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