If sheer numbers are any indication, Yorkville's recent success has sparked plenty of excitement around the program.
The Foxes had more than 120 kids signed up for summer camp between their three levels. That comes on the heels of back-to-back 8-3 seasons.
"Kids want to get involved," Yorkville coach Dan McGuire said. "We're happy at the numbers. We have been able to put together a couple of decent years. We have a good group of core returning kids providing good leadership. We did virtual workouts at home on Zoom and those were well-attended at all levels."
Yorkville didn't miss a beat last year in its first season in the Southwest Prairie Conference. The Foxes won their first six games, and in their two regular-season losses led both Minooka and Oswego in the second half.
The Foxes did graduate a stellar senior class, a group led by All-State safety Cale Reeder, Ben Stemmet and Josh Beetham, but McGuire is hopeful they can keep the train moving.
"This group of kids we just had, I never had to be worried about them being ready for a game; I think emulating them and pointing that out is extremely important," McGuire said. "We have a lot of kids who have been very successful in their life. At the end of the year we invited anybody – freshmen, sophomores – to come to our playoff practices and see how our kids do it. I think our junior tackle league has done a good job of preparing us and the middle school program has done a tremendous job. We're lucky to have that kind of community."
Head coach: Dan McGuire (sixth season)
Last year's record: 8-3
Who is at quarterback?
The Foxes have holes to fill on both sides of the ball – and, clearly, quarterback is among the most prominent places. Beetham, now a walk on at Illinois, was a two-year varsity starter, a strong thrower who passed for 1,463 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior.
Rising senior Luke Davies, who didn't play last year because of a medical issue, but did signal in Yorkville's plays, is one candidate to take over at quarterback. Another is Nate Kraus, who will be a junior and who McGuire noted hat improved quite a bit.
"Offensively we have to solidify that position," McGuire said.
In a sense, Yorkville is replacing its quarterbacks on both sides of the ball, as Reeder and Stemmet relayed signals defensively last year for a strong Foxes' unit.
"We have to develop leadership on defense," McGuire said. "We try to give our kids opportunities to make those checks. We have to develop some vocal leaders that will essentially be coaches on the field. I think we have some really good up and coming guys on defense. They can do it, they just haven't done it yet."
Players to Watch
The Foxes will return three of their offensive linemen, among seven to eight players back offensively all total. Senior Jarek Slavin, who received offers in July from Roosevelt University and Knox College, anchors that group. Junior Kendren Smith is back after breaking his leg midway through last season, with junior Kyle Clabough the third returner.
"Slavin, love his mentality, he'll have dirt all over him and a smile on his face. I love how he handles himself with teammates and coaches," McGuire said. "He's a kid you want on your side. Those are the kind of kids you need."
Cole Ferguson returns at slot receiver and Brendan McGarahan played quite a bit at receiver last year. Dougie Burson, recently offered by Augustana, got some touches at tailback last year playing behind Tre Thomas and Toran Harris, and returns in the backfield with fullback Will Schumacher.
Defense is somewhat of a different story, with three to four back who started last year. Manny Cervantes played a bit on the defensive line, Christian Aquino takes over inside for Stemmet and Ryder Berry slides into the hybrid outside linebacker/safety spot manned by Jake Polowy the past two seasons.
Newcomers You Need to Know
McGuire hopes to have Cole Yearsley back on the football field. Yearsley, also a stellar baseball player and basketball starter, played football as a freshman, but did not come out the past two years. He projects at defensive back, possibly at cornerback.
"We don't want to throw too much at him," McGuire said. "We feel we could use him in the secondary. We're hoping he can bring some athleticism there."
The one change is Yorkville's Week 1 opponent. The Foxes are hosting Plainfield East, which takes the place of Joliet West on the schedule. It will be considered a nonconference game, rather than an SPC crossover. It is also the only 2019 playoff team in Yorkville's first five games of the season. The schedule toughens considerably down the stretch as the Foxes enter the SPC West slate, with four straight 2019 playoff teams to finish the season.
Yorkville has experienced a resurgence on the football field, with two straight playoff appearances. Even more impressive, the Foxes kept it going last year as the smallest school in a new league. The question is, with a talented senior class gone, can they maintain that momentum? It's been 30 years since the Yorkville program qualified for the playoffs in three straight seasons.
The schedule seems to set up for a fast start, which should have the Foxes in the hunt for another playoff berth.