New defense at Harlem, Boylan team to beat?
Six NIC-10 football coaches have called in over the past three weeks for the Stateline Sports Hour and we've learned a few things with week one approaching.
Harlem will have a different look on both sides of the ball.
The Huskies have made the IHSA playoffs for nine straight seasons, but coach Jim Morrow said on the show that "winning papered over some" weaknesses on the defensive side of the ball. He said the Huskies defensive staff hit the road this summer and brought back ideas for different concepts.
Harlem in 2016 finished 6-4 but gave up 298 points on defense.
On offense, under Morrow, the Huskies traditionally have had a very varied offense. Then they moved Brenton Shaw to running back his junior year. Shaw ended up breaking the NIC-10 career rushing record with seasons of 1,698 and 1,680 yards rushing.
Shaw though has graduated - he's playing at Southwest Minnesota State - and Morrow said Harlem will go back to "spreading the ball around." Morrow also wouldn't commit to naming a starter at quarterback.
Auburn coach Dan Appino said the conference will again be very balanced but said his old school, Boylan, is the clear favorite.
Auburn graduated its entire offensive line, including generational talents Donterrio Hannah and Vederian Lowe. So Auburn like Harlem is going to have to do something different than just lining up and running the ball down the other team's throat.
The Knights' top rusher, Qwan Bell, who ran for 1,213 yards last season is back and that should help. If there is one lock in terms of records, Bell will set a new school rushing record. Appino is entering his sixth season at Auburn and coming off back-to-back NIC-10 titles. He's been there long enough that Auburn's less than stellar football history is beginning to fade. In 2016, Bell and Drequan Friar both topped 1,000 yards rushing.
That doubled the number of 1,000-yard rushing seasons in school history.
Before the recent run of success, Craig Rideout led the NIC-9 in rushing for the Knights in 1990 with 1,334 yards and had 1,933 over the 1989 and 1990 seasons. The other 1,000-yard season was turned in in 1997 by Terrell Goldsmith, who led the NIC-9 with 1,228 yards. Goldsmith had 1,818 yards rushing in 1996 and 1997.
Bell already has 1,918 yards rushing. He collected 705 yards as a sophomore.
East is entering its fourth season under coach Gary Griffin, which means this year's senior class came in with him as freshmen. That includes his son, Jalen, who is the leading returning rusher.
The E-Rabs were 1-8 each of Griffin's first two seasons before improving to 4-5 last year. Just one more win this year and East qualifies for its first IHSA playoffs since 2002. We'll know just how good they are after the first four weeks. East opens with Belvidere, Auburn, Hononegah and Harlem.
Hononegah will be in its second year running the spread under coach Brian Zimmer. Junior Ryan Van Schelven will be running the system. Van Schelven threw for 358 yards in limited action last year.
The week one matchups are:
Guilford at Hononegah
Auburn at Freeport
Harlem at Jefferson
Boylan at Belvidere North
Belvidere at East