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Vernon Hills Football Team aims to live up to high expectations

Cougar football had a record-breaking season in 2016. This year, they aim to have another successful season.

Tyler Kading

Cougar football had a record-breaking season in 2016. This year, they aim to have another successful season.

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Coming off the backs of their best performance in school history, the Vernon Hills High School football team is ready to prove that last season was not a fluke.

Mr. Cortez, the team’s defensive backs coach, knows this all too well. His group was elite last season, but almost none of the personnel is the same from that team.

“Last year, we had Drew Winegardner at free safety. He was obviously a senior that graduated. We also had Jake Morris (11) at cornerback, and he did really well for us as a sophomore, but now he’s our Mike linebacker. At that other cornerback spot, we had a lot of people playing depending on the opponent, so it’s a brand new secondary,” Cortez said of his group.

However, the roster turnover isn’t just with the defensive backs. Only eight starters have returned from last season.

Mr. Bellecomo, the head football coach, isn’t fazed.

“I think we’ve got a nice nucleus back of kids who have a lot of experience at the varsity level, and a lot of playoff experience, so it’s absolutely possible to get back [to the state title],” Bellecomo said.

One of those returning starters, center Max Xu (11), feels confident in the new-look offense.

“I think our offense can most definitely be as successful, if not more successful, than last year’s offense. I think that we have play-makers at all positions, just like last year,” Xu said.

Both Cortez and Bellecomo spoke highly of senior free safety Max Lyle, one of the returning starters from last season. Cortez stressed how important Lyle is to the defense.

“Now, he’s the eyes and the voice of the defense. He’s in a position where he can see everything, so he’s the one who’s communicating formations, making sure that guys are in the right position, and he’s kind of the last resort,” Cortez said. “If some sort of play breaks, he’s the last guy to make the tackle, so he’s crucial when it comes to our defense.”

Bellecomo also spoke highly of Lyle, noting the value of his experience with the varsity team.

“He’s made a lot of big plays for us, especially last year during the state run, so I think that brings confidence,” Bellecomo said.

The Cougars will be led into battle by junior quarterback Derek Jarrell, a key piece to their run last season, albeit playing wide receiver. However, after watching him in practice, Bellecomo is fully confident in him as a quarterback.

“Derek’s got a strong arm, he’s accurate, and he makes good decisions,” Bellecomo said.

The Cougars started the season 1-2 in nonconference play, defeating Grayslake Central and losing to Zion-Benton and Rolling Meadows. They begin conference play against Highland Park on Sept. 22, following one more out-of-conference game against Hoffman Estates.

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The student newspaper of Vernon Hills High School
Vernon Hills Football Team aims to live up to high expectations