Last season, Chicago's De La Salle Institute had a young roster full of talent, mostly in the sophomore class. This year, as those players turn the page into their junior seasons, the Meteors are poised to improve upon last year's 4-5 mark.
Meteor is not only the school's mascot, but a good description of an offense that should be very powerful. At the controls of the attack is junior Shelby Spence, who gained valuable experience a year ago.
"He started on the sophomore team as a freshman," head coach Dan O'Keefe said, "and they were 7-2 and won the conference. Last year, he started on varsity as a sophomore and we were 4-5. That was the first losing season he'd been a part of. From 5th grade to freshman year, every year, he won a championship, so he got a taste of varsity. It's bigger, faster, more intense, and it was a different speed of football last year, so it was a good thing for him."
Looking to get back to his winning ways, Spence has worked hard this offseason to expand his game and add another threat to the offense.
"We're expecting him to open the offense a lot more and be more of a dual threat this year. He's a great passer, great arm, great accuracy, and he's been like that since he started football. He's worked on his speed, agility, footwork, and what we expect out of him is to add a different dimension. He won't be the only rushing threat besides our running back, and we have a good running back coming back too, so that will give teams more to think about."
Fast Runner, Hard Worker
That running back is Mikale Wilbon. Wilbon had a big summer, earning his first scholarship offer from Purdue, and doing well at various college camps including Michigan State and Ohio State. His success is not a surprise to O'Keefe, who saw what he was able to do last fall.
"He has everything you're looking for. Not only can he cut and move, but he's as strong as an ox. He's not just running around everybody, but he'll run through you. He's very very strong. He's the most solid 195-lbs I think I've ever seen. He's all muscle. People say that to exaggerate that someone doesn't have an ounce of fat on them, and he's as close to that as I've ever seen. He's very very strong."
Some of Wilbon's strength, speed and abilities, are natural, but he also is one of the hardest workers on the team.
"He does the same weight program as everyone else on the team. The football coaches and strength coach would love to take credit, but he's been able to do that higher level at a young age. He ran track this year also. He never neglected weights. He ran, jumped rope, participated on the track team, kept busy, and he's another guy who never lets us down."
The work ethic, but also the explosiveness and versatility Wilbon brings has made him attractive to college coaches, and it's a good bet that the Boilermakers will be joined by others offering soon.
"College coaches love him. He's been MVP at almost every combine, college day camp that he's been to. He's impressive in every way. He can catch the ball too. He's everything you want in a back. He's very, very tough to bring down. He started on varsity as a sophomore and rushed for over 1,600 yards as a 15 year old in one of the toughest leagues in the state. It's nice to have a guy like that."
Spence, Wilbon, and the rest of the Meteor skill players will benefit from a massive offensive line lead by offensive tackle Jamarco Jones, a 6'5, 290-lb junior already holding offers from big time schools like Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Illinois, and others.
"We've had big guys," O'Keefe explains, "and there are big guys all over the league and all over the state. On every league, on every roster, you can find guys that are 6'5, 290-lbs, but not guys that size who can move like he can. He can pull, pass block, he has quick hands, quick feet, and he's hard to get by. He doesn't give up sacks."
Not only that, but he is an outstanding student.
"He's an intelligent kid. He's a 4.0, straight A, all advanced placement classes. He's all upside. It's hard to find any negatives. He's still growing. He just turned 16 in June. He's strong, getting faster every day."
The interest has come from schools around the country, and there is little doubt that his offer list will continue to grow. Jones has taken several visits this summer, but he has not allowed the attention to go to his head.
"One of the things I told colleges before the offers came in is, he's mature beyond his years. His mom keeps him pretty well grounded. Academics is #1 with her. She's very happy with his success and the attention he's getting from colleges, but it's a distant second as far as she's concerned with academics. You can see that in the way he works and amount of time he spends. When he's not working out, he's studying, and his mom instilled that in him."
Most coaches would a trio like Jones, Spence and Wilbon for just one season, so O'Keefe knows he's lucky to have had them for last season and gets to keep them for the next two.
"I have them for two more years, so I just keep them healthy and humble."
Those three aren't the only prospects on the team though, as there are a few others looking to make their mark.
Sophomore offensive lineman Javon Burruss - He's like Jamarco in a lot of ways. Their height and weight is almost identical. Burruss is probably a little heavier, not as cut as Jamarco, but he can move. He's like him in that way. He's a big guy that can move. He's a guy who has taken after Jamarco. They grew up not too far from each other, and have known each other a long time. That helps to have a guy to work out with and to look up to. Now they're on the same line on the same varsity team and there are a lot of teams with guys of that size, but what's impressive is how they move that weight.
Junior offensive tackle Aaron Roberts - He really sprouted up in the offseason. He's 6'6, 280 and on our offensive line too. He has the potential to be a big time recruit as well. He's just getting name out there. He's been to a few summer camps. He's really grown. He was a big guy as a sophomore, but he looks like Jamarco now when the two are out there. Shelby and Mikale enjoy looking at that line. Darren is a little taller. He's about 6'6, 280, Jamarco's 6'5, 290. He's another good one with the potential to be a great one."
Sophomore wide receiver Bryce Sutherland - He's a wide receiver. He's 6'2, 180-lbs and just keep an eye out for him. He has the potential to be a scholarship player. He has great, great speed and strength for a guy his size. He's lightning fast, great hands, and this will be his first year on varsity.
And the Defense?
While the defensive side of the ball may not have the big name recruits of the offensive side, that does not mean there isn't talent there.
"Our defense is fast, aggressive. They're young, but very tough."