Football: Naperville Central, 2014 version, has tough act to follow

Naperville Central isn’t living in the past, but the Redhawks aren’t ignoring it either.

That’s the mental balancing act for the defending Class 8A champions, who turned an OK season into an unforgettable one by ending 2013 with six straight wins.

“We don’t act like it didn’t happen,” Naperville Central coach Mike Stine said of the program’s second state title and first since 1999. “We talk about it almost every day. But we also know this is a new team.

“That team graduated, that group will never be together again. This is a new team trying to create their own identity.”

Bobby McMillen has a foot in both camps. He was one of five juniors who started against Loyola in the 8A final — including Michael Kolzow, a two-way regular at wide receiver and defensive back — and will be one of the leaders of the 2014 squad.

“It was such a big year for us last year,” said McMillen, a three-star prospect who has committed to Iowa State. “But what we’re focused on (is) this year, this is a brand new year. We’re trying … to focus on what’s coming for us in the future.”

That future will be without one of the best quarterbacks in program history. Jake Kolbe, who passed for 2,246 yards last season, has moved on to Illinois State.

“You don’t replace a Jake Kolbe,” Stine said. “He comes around maybe once in your (coaching) career if you’re lucky.”

One priority in the summer 7-on-7 season was to get reps for the two contenders to follow in Kolbe’s footsteps — junior Connor Joyce and senior David Wesolowski.

The Redhawks’ quarterback will have some talent to call on. Senior Kevin Clifford is back after leading the team in rushing a year ago (149 carries, 779 yards, 15 touchdowns) and Kolzow (61 catches, 757 yards, 9 TDs) is a proven receiver.

“I haven’t seen a kid work much harder than I’ve seen Kevin work this offseason,” McMillen said. “He’s been with the O-linemen, just watching film with all of them, figuring what they’re going to do.”

“Cliff’s going to do well,” Stine said. “He looks great in practice. He’s got a burst. We’re expecting big things from him.”

And Stine sees the potential to be multi-dimensional on offense.

“You have to really have a mixture, to do both, and in the playoffs we had that ability to run it and throw it,” the coach said. “Hopefully our guys will be able to spread the field to open up the run and we’ll be able to run it well enough to open up the passing game.”

On the other side of the ball, McMillen is back to lead the way after putting up big numbers at linebacker as a junior — 80 solo tackles, 46 assists.

But again, he’s looking ahead and not behind.

“We’ve got a big target on our back — flat out,” McMillen said. “But we know that and that just makes us work even harder. … The littlest mistakes, we know that teams will capitalize on (them). Because we know that they want to come in and beat the defending state champs.”

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