Sean Drendel was recently named head coach at Naperville North High School, replacing former Illini Larry McKeon, who retired. Drendel played four years at Eastern Illinois and then returned to his alma mater and has been on the coaching staff ever since.
Drendel has a great starting point for his first season as head coach despite an average 2009 season.
"We were 5-5 last year. We had a lot of injuries and a lot of things go wrong. We competed hard, but we were just an average team last year.
"We return a lot of kids. We have a middle linebacker who's been offered by Indiana, Ball State and a few other schools. And we have a quarterback who's been offered by Illinois and the University of Toledo. And we have other good parts coming back. For a first year coach, it's a great starting point. We have the building blocks to put us on solid footing, that's for sure."
The middle linebacker is 6'-3", 230 pounder Nick Lifka. Some rate him among the best in the state while others are uncertain about his best position.
"From a production standpoint, he has to be (among the best). From a recruiting standpoint, I think some people are missing the boat a little bit. He isn't as big a name as I think he should be. He's a tremendous tackler, he makes great decisions on the football field. He's called our defense for two years, so he has pretty good leadership skills. And he's just a great kid."
Some think he may grow too large for linebacker, necessitating a shift to the defensive line.
"I think that stems from the fact he is a young junior and hasn't physically grown into himself yet. He had a couple uncles that were defensive tackles at Notre Dame during the (Gerry) Faust and early (Lou) Holtz years. So people look at that and think he could be still growing.
"He's physical, he's got a great wide body. I think he could easily be a defensive lineman, but chose to keep him on his feet so he can play sideline to sideline, which he does so well."
Some also question his speed and lateral quickness for linebacker.
"Unfortunately, I think some people pigeonhole him a little bit. We play him against tailbacks when we go straight man in coverage, and he makes plays. He can run with the tailbacks in 7 on 7. I think he can run with everybody. He can play football.
"Yes, he's probably a little better as a tackle to tackle inside linebacker. But he's pretty agile, and he pursues the quarterback. He's unbelieveable for making him pay when he gets out of the pocket.
"If you just see Nick walk by, you wouldn't think he could go out and cover someone man-to-man. But he definitely does. I just rave about him. He's as good as I've coached, and we have four kids in the NFL. At this age, he's as good as Chris Brown, Glenn Earl or any of those guys."
Quarterback Matt LaCosse already has an Illinois scholarship offer. He could play several positions at the college level.
"Illinois likes what they see at quarterback, but they see a kid that is about 6'-6"to 6'-7", about 230 pounds right now. He never has focused on one sport. He plays basketball and baseball. When they get him in a weight room program...it's very difficult to participate in the weight room when you're playing another sport.
"I think wherever you put him on the field, you would be happy with what you've got. He'll do a great job at quarterback for us because he's played two years there. If you can still run, and you can still move in the pocket, I don't see why they wouldn't want you at 6'-10" if they could. As the o-lines and d-lines keep getting taller, I think you'd want a taller quarterback.
"The thing that makes Matt a special athlete is he's as athletic as they come, maybe one of the most athletic kids on our team. And he's 6'-6" to 6'-7".
"I think colleges look at Matt, and they say, 'Well, we could try him here, we could try him here.' His doors are a little more open than Nick from that standpoint. He's not per se a quarterback, he could play a lot of positions.
"I don't know if he's a freak of an athlete, but he's explosive, he can jump, he can run. He plays shortstop on the baseball team. He's got great feet. He's not afraid to run people over. For what we're probably gonna do offensively, run the option a little more, he becomes our X factor."
LaCosse needs work on throwing fundamentals if he's to remain at quarterback.
"With all these quarterback coaches and camps, he's probably a little behind in the throwing aspect because he plays three sports. But he's definitely progressing. He's working on it pretty diligently now. I think you'll see a pretty darn good passer.
"Actually, last year his best throw was the out pattern, which everyone says is the most difficult. I think he could be a good quarterback throwing the football, I really do."
He will undoubtedly improve his quarterbacking once he concentrates solely on football. But like many who both quarterback and pitch, it can be difficult to train oneself for two different throwing motions.
"He's a shortstop and a pitcher also, so he has a strong arm. What happens is he stays in his pitching throw rather than our quarterback throw. There's definitely a different motion, different stride, different footwork.
"We've got to break that habit a little bit, make him more of a quarterback rather than a thrower. Some kids can do it, and some kids can't. I truly think he's working at it more this year, and I think he'll be a lot better as a quarterback this year."
Drendel is convinced both stars will be receiving numerous college offers in the near future.
"Everyone's starting to take a look, so I think you'll see a bunch more offers coming up. And it's the same for Nicholas. A lot of schools are looking pretty hard at them right now."
Drendel also looks forward to watching the development of a couple younger players.
"We have an offensive guard that's about 6'-3" and 260, a 15 year old sophomore named David Meyerhoff. He's got a wide body, he's got really good feet. He was up on the varsity a little bit last year. He's got a great shot. He fits the bill.
"Garrett Goebel (Ohio State lineman) has a cousin Callin Goebel that's a freshman and has the makings of being an excellent football player."