St. Charles North missed the playoffs despite a 5-4 record last season, and two of those losses came in overtime.
Now in his second year, coach Rob Pomazak thinks offseason strides on both sides of the ball can help North pull out those tight games that proved costly a year ago.
North's defense is led by senior linebacker Carson Schmitt and linebacker-turned-defensive end Jordan Bergren, whose versatility and intangibles impress Pomazak.
"His leadership, his smarts on the field are second to none," Pomazak said.
Defensive linemen Jack Glavin and Dalton Young, senior safety Nick Zamecnik and junior cornerback Jake Chantos are among the other defensive players who impressed during the offseason.
Offensively, junior running back Dom Sidari will try to keep North's running game – a strength last season – humming. A retooled offensive line will include left tackle Ryan Turner and right tackle Sam Imbrogio, a sophomore who Pomazak considers a "tremendous prospect."
North's coaching staff targeted the passing game as an area in need of improvement this season and senior quarterback Nathan Didier and junior Kyle Novotney battled in the preseason for the chance to work with a deep receiving corps that will include Jayson Reckards, Blake Kastein, Brendan Donlevy and John LeGare.
Tight end/outside linebacker Jack Callaghan figures to be among a handful of North Stars who will see action on both side of the ball, while Sidari will also make his presence felt as North's kicker.
The midway point of the schedule will test North considerably.
"I think Week 4 and Week 5 against Geneva and Batavia are going to be a tell-tale two weeks for us," Pomazak said. "I'd like to think we can go into Weeks 1, 2 and 3 and compete, and then Geneva and Batavia, you look at those two games and you have to circle them on your schedule."
– Jay Schwab
Coach: Rob Pomazak (second year)
2013 record: 5-4 overall, 3-3 UEC River.
Fast fact: Guard Brendan McCarthy is the only returning starter on the North Stars' offensive line.
Special teams spotlight: Pomazak is going to give some of his athletic newcomers a shot to play a large role in the return game. "We'll be young, it'll be juniors, so that first game's important for us to get our feet wet and kind of get used to the speed," Pomazak said.
Bottom line: If the North Stars can sustain longer drives this season, there is plenty of ability on defense to give the program a strong chance to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Memory banked: "I think it'd be last year, I forget who we were playing, but I was playing defensive line and I reached up and swatted a pass, and it bounced off the lineman's helmet and bounced right into [Carson Schmitt's] hands. It was just a great memory, watching him running down for a touchdown. It was just funny." – Jordan Bergren, senior defensive end
Aug. 29 vs. Elk Grove 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 5 at Plainfield Central7 p.m.
Sept. 12 at West Chicago 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 19 vs. Geneva 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 26 at Batavia 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 3 vs. Larkin 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 10 at Streamwood 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 17 vs. St. Charles East 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 24 at Elgin 7:30 p.m.
Marquee matchup: vs. Elk Grove, Aug. 29. Not only is Elk Grove Pomazak's former school, but the Grenadiers dealt North an OT loss to open last season, and North is itching to set a different tone for 2014.
Aug. 30 Elk Grove L, 23-22
Sept. 6 Plainfield Central W, 48-0
Sept. 13 St. Charles East L, 28-21
Sept. 20 Elgin W, 49-0
Sept. 27 Geneva L, 35-28
Oct. 4 Streamwood W, 55-6
Oct. 11 Batavia L, 44-7
Oct. 18 Larkin W, 48-20
Oct. 26 South Elgin W, 27-25