Wheaton Warrenville South
Head coach: Ron Muhitch (10th season; 96-17 career record)
2010 record: 14-0 (7-0 in the DVC), Class 7A state champion
Top offensive players: Thaddeus Armstrong, Sr. QB; Ryan Graham, So. QB; Patrick Garner, Sr. RB, Dan Vitale, Sr. RB; Zach Zlabis, Sr. WR
Top defensive players: Adam Dansdill, Sr. LB; Jack Lipinsky, Sr. DE; Brandon Peterson, Sr. LB; Mike Shelton, Sr. DB; Evan Welsh, Sr. NG
(home games in CAPS; *denotes DVC game)
Sunday, Aug. 28—GLENBARD WEST
Friday, Sept. 2—at Maine South
Friday, Sept. 9—WEST AURORA*
Friday, Sept. 16—at Naperville North*
Friday, Sept. 23—NAPERVILLE CENTRAL*
Friday, Sept. 30—WEST CHICAGO*
Friday, Oct. 7—at Glenbard North*
Friday, Oct. 14—at Glenbard East*
Friday, Oct. 21—WHEATON NORTH*
With and 26 straight victories under their belts, Muhitch and the Tigers are well aware they’re the team every opponent on their schedule wants to knock off—or pay back for past defeats.
“We’ve got the toughest schedule in the state of Illinois,” said Muhitch, whose team hosts Glenbard West in the much-talked-about, ESPN nationally televised season-opener Sunday, Aug. 28, and then visits defending Class 8A champion Maine South the following week.
“We’ve got everybody in the world that wants a piece of us from the last two years. And they should. Our teams have been so good and so dominant. People are going to try and take it to us, and we know that.”
Muhitch has faced rebuilding years throughout his successful tenure as coach, which includes three state championships and four trips to the title game. But this season presents a particularly tough challenge as the Tigers lost a bevy of key performers on both sides of the ball to graduation, including all-state quarterback Reilly O’Toole (now at Illinois), the entire offensive line, running back Matt Rogers, wideout Titus Davis, safety Caleb Bednarz, defensive end Will Davis and sparkplug nose guard Sparty Chino.
Nonetheless, Muhitch is looking forward to seeing who will fill those voids and how the 2011 Tigers will handle the expectations of being a defending state championship team.
“I think it’s going to be a really fun season to see how far this group can go,” he said. “People are going to try and take it to us, and we know that. My job is to get these kids to believe in themselves as a group, to believe that their talent can perform as well as any other program we’ve had here. To do that is going to require a great learning curve, if you will, these first couple of ballgames.”
TIGERS ON OFFENSE:
Who will replace O’Toole, the area’s most prolific passer over the past two seasons? The Tigers have two options: Armstrong, who transferred to WWS from Ottawa High School over the summer, or Graham.
Armstrong saw limited action for Ottawa, a Class 5A school in north-central Illinois that went to the playoffs last season with a 6-4 record. He has nice size (6-foot-4) and a good arm.
With regard to Graham, if you’re wondering whether he is related to any of the Grahams who’ve starred at cross-town rival Wheaton North over the past 20-some years, the answer is yes. Ryan’s father is Dan Graham, who once played center for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneeers. His cousin, Taylor, and his uncle, Kent, both were quarterbacks for the Falcons. (Kent also played in the NFL).
Muhitch said he hasn’t yet decided who will get the start vs. Glenbard West.
“They’re both very close,” he said.
How quickly an all-junior offensive line jells this season, however, is arguably a more pressing issue for the Tigers than quarterback. Hollis Henry, Frank Garcia, Kyle Joyce, Joe Kirsch, Ryan Mccarthy and Rich Metzger are the candidates to replace last year’s line that had four NCAA Division I performers.
“We know the learning curve’s going to be on offense,” Muhitch said.
But there’s no mystery who’ll line up in the starting backfield for WWS. Muhitch said Vitale, a recent Northwestern signee, and Garner will get an equal share of reps.
“My belief is that in high school football anymore you just can’t be a one feature back,” Muhitch said. “You’re going to get beat up. Plus we can use Dan in other places.”
Zlabis, Brady Banda and Sam Prete, all seniors, are in the rotation at wideout.
TIGERS ON DEFENSE:
Muhitch is counting on a four starters back from last year’s state title team to provide defensive stability as the offense finds its groove.
“My expectation is that our defense is going to lead us,” he said. “Everybody expects our defense to show up and be ready to go. They’ve got a tall order. We’re expecting that group to match up with the opponents’ offense and to keep us in the ballgame.”
Returnees Dansdill and Peterson will team up with Dan Roadman to give the Tigers a solid linebacking corps. Shelton and Lipinsky are Muhitch’s other returning starters.
“Defense wins championships; it doesn’t win games,” Muhitch said. “You’ve got to score points to win games. Our defense has got a little more responsibility at the beginning of the year to handle the pressure.”
Muhitch likes what Lipinsky and classmates Welsh and Mark Rooney bring to the table up front. He envisions Welsh becoming “the next Sparty (Chino).”
“He’s another kid that we’re really high on,” Muhitch said. “I’m anxious to see how he does in there for us.”