Last season: 7-3 (5-1 South Suburban Conference Blue; lost in first round)
Returning starters: 11 (four offense, seven defense)
Coach: Bob Padjen, 0-0 in 1st year at school, 23-28 in sixth year overall
1. After 23 years at defensive coordinator, Bob Padjen steps in as Rebels head coach after his brother, Tom, manned the helm the last 40 years. He'll look to carry on the tradition of the program. "We've had some pretty good success and we have some good kids here," Bob said. "Hopefully I don't mess it up too bad."
2. The Rebels lose perhaps their top weapon in WR Bron Hill (724 yards, 10 TD), but one of four returning starters return is senior tailback Johnt'e Crawford, who had seven rushing touchdowns in 2016. "Johnt'e is one of our strongest kids, he's got a nice combination of speed and power," Padjen said. Crawford's lead blocker will be fullback Chuck Peoples, who Padjen called bowling ball at 5-foot-9, 230 pounds. Without Hill on the outside, look for Anthony Lewis to get more passes. "It's more of an experience issue offensively. We'll need somebody else besides Johnt'e to take off," Padjen said. "We have some taller kids that can catch outside but right now, they're just behind a little repetition-wise."
3. With Bob's son, Reis, now graduated, the QB spot is now up for grabs between Brandon Witvliet and Kameron Clayton. Whomever wins the job will be sure to feature Crawford. "We have a lot of team speed," Padjen said. "We'll look to get mismatches either up the middle or on the outside."
4. The offensive line returns Hasan Jackson (6-4, 265) at the tackle spot along with returning starting center Austin Velasquez. Trystan Cohs has also put his name into consideration and Kendall Robinzine will man the other tackle position. "This is one of our biggest teams in a while. We have a little experience on the line but after the first few guys, there's not much depth there," Padjen said.
5. Jackson is the standout on the defensive line as well seeing time at both DE and DT, where he's getting Division-1 looks. "Teams aren't going to run Hasan's way, but we'll need other guys to fill in," Padjen said. Connor Frampke (DT) and Preston Gunn (nose tackle) as well as Robinzine (6-3, 225) round out the line. Justin Mason is a lengthy 6-4 track-star cornerback that'll be joined by Avaun Hawkins and nickel back Antonius Finch-Ell. "We're pretty well situated in the secondary," Padjen said. Sophomore Michael Smith slots in at a LB spot. Kicker Robert Vasquez will allow the Rebs to do some things on special teams.