FOOTBALL: 10 skill players to watch this season
Quarterbacks often are the face of a program, but it’s the running backs and receivers who make the signal callers’ jobs easier as a whole.
It’s those positions in which defensive coordinators game plan around to try and slow an entire offense down.
Now that we’re just three weeks away from football Friday nights, here are 10 skill players who you’ll be seeing and hearing much about this season:
Conner Dempsay, Wilmington
Flat out, Conner Dempsay is the best running back returning to the area this season, and his numbers prove that. He finished last season leading the 10-2 Wildcats to a Class 3A quarterfinal and ended with 1,539 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns. In the moments Wilmington aired the ball out, Dempsay racked up 220 receiving yards and five touchdowns en route to Class 3A first-team All-State honors. Expect him to be just as lethal in his final season.
Ryan Brewer, Peotone
Last year was the start of establishing a tradition and building a system for the Blue Devils. Although much of it was centered around Chandler Gartner and Dillon Buege, Ryan Brewer had a hand in the rushing attack as well. Of the trio, Brewer was the bruiser, delivering crushing blow after blow toward opposing defenses. It’s now his show this season, and Peotone will go as far as Brewer’s legs can carry them.
Justin McTaggart, Watseka
The historic 6-0 start for Watseka last season was because of the backfield duo of quarterback Brendan Fletcher and Justin McTaggart. Fletcher is now gone, so much of the offense could run through McTaggart; who rushed for more than 600 yards last season to help vault Watseka to the playoffs. In order for the Warriors to get back to week 10, McTaggart will have to be fed the ball a number of times.
Connor Skubic, Coal City
If it wasn’t for Connor Skubic, Coal City would have been shutout in its playoff game against Taylorville. But all the work Skubic put in prior to that game is what lands him on this list. Skubic came on, possibly, stronger than any player — as last season progressed — as he finished with 828 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. The Coalers have a loaded junior class alongside 12 seniors, led by Skubic. Look for the senior feature back to gash defenses repeatedly for nine weeks.
Logan Graham, Dwight
The Trojans’ offense ran completely through Logan Graham last season, whether it was rushing or throwing. Graham consistently made opposing defenses pay, as he piled up 727 yards on the ground and also threw for a couple of touchdowns. With the SVC filled with a lot of unknowns this year, Dwight could sneak in and win the conference. But Graham will carry an even bigger load this year.
Anthony Lopez, Manteno
With four receivers graduating from last season, Anthony Lopez returns as the most experienced wide out on the Panthers’ roster this season. That experience makes him quarterback Shane Warren’s No. 1 target and puts a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. However, it’s nothing he can’t handle after catching 29 passes for 553 yards and a handful of touchdowns. Expect those numbers to go up dramatically with Warren slinging passes.
Jason Bargy, Momence
For the majority of his Momence career, Jason Bargy has lined up in the backfield as the featured back behind signal caller Kobey Mazur. But Bargy is beyond versatile, and he might be most dangerous as a tight end this season with his 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame. If utilized in a receiving capacity, Bargy is a matchup nightmare and gives Mazur an easy guy to target down the field.
Matt Dorsey, Herscher
With so much turnover in Herscher’s program, including eight receivers graduating, Matt Dorsey returns as the most experienced receiver after back-to-back Class 4A quarterfinal appearances. Dorsey racked up more than 300 receiving yards and handled kick return duties last season. He’ll be asked to do much more this fall, especially with a new quarterback under center.
Chris Bement, Dwight
Chris Bement’s stock has risen quite a bit throughout the summer, coming with a couple of Division I offers. With a huge final season in store, that stock could go through the roof. Dwight was a run-first and pass whenever necessary offense last year. Bement managed to haul in 390 receiving yards. For the Trojans to take the next step, Bement has to be a terror on both sides of the ball, which is very much possible at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds.
Payton Gerberding, Bishop McNamara
Returning to the standard that’s been set at Bishop McNamara throughout the past 40 years is the main goal for the Irish this season, and Payton Gerberding can play a major factor in that movement. The senior wideout hauled in 22 catches for more than 500 yards last year and looks to be the top target for quarterback Tyler Hiller this season. Look for Gerberding to do damage on the outside, especially in man-to-man situations.