No. 15: Downers Grove South

Last season: 7-3 overall, 6-0 West Suburban Gold, lost in the Class 8A first round to Neuqua Valley, not ranked in the final ESPNChicago.com 2010 poll.

Season ahead: Downers Grove South coach John Belskis can only wonder what his team’s 2010 season would have been like without so many injuries.

In one game last season, Belskis had nine starters out.

A season later, Belskis is trying to look at the positives of having gone through such a rough year. One of those positive is a lot of younger players got experience last season. Another is he’s hopeful the players who were injured last season are motivated to have big seasons.

The Mustangs have the potential to be among the best teams in the state. On offense, they return starting quarterback A.J. Simoncelli, running back Josh Williams, tight Scott Daly, who is a Notre Dame long snapper recruit, offensive linemen Shane Company, Mark Muench and Tim Lieb and kicker Anthony Farinella, one of the area’s top kickers.

Defensively, the returnees include linebackers Lance Leong, Leo Arvanitakis and Melvin Saulsberry, linemen Josh Aldrin and Chris Eberhart and defensive backs Danny Leach and John Wauer.

“I think our strength is we don’t have a lot of weaknesses,” Belskis said.

Star power: When Josh Williams has been on the field, he’s been among the area’s best running backs. Downers Grove South’s problem has been keeping him on the field. He’s missed half of the Mustangs’ games over the last two seasons due to injuries. “We’re hoping he can show people what he can do week in and week out and not just in half of them,” Belskis said.

Breakout performer: Josh Aldrin had the making of a monstrous junior year, but he tore his ACL before the year began and missed the entire season. Now healthy, Aldrin is expected to make up for missed time. “He was a kid who nobody could block [before his injury,]” Belskis said. “He’s back to 100 percent healthy. He benches over 400 pounds and squats over 500.”

Defensive difference-maker: Danny Leach returns as a starter in the secondary and will be looked to have another strong season. He also could see some time offensively. “He’s a really talented kid,” Belskis said.

Newcomer to watch: Junior Kaylon Miller was one of the top wide receivers on last year’s sophomore team. The hope is he can make a similar impact on varsity.

Schedule breakdown: Downers Grove South’s toughest regular-season games may just be its first two. The Mustangs open the season against South Elgin and Lyons, two 2010 playoff teams. “We like those challenges,” Belskis said. “We’ve never ducked them.” The Mustangs went undefeated in the West Suburban Gold last season and will be favored to do so again.

Key game: Sept. 23 vs. Downers Grove North – Downers Grove North was the only conference school to really give the Mustangs a contest last season. Downers Grove South pulled out a 17-14 win on the road in last year’s meeting.

What they’re saying: “I think there’s enough kids back where we should be competitive in every game we play,” Belskis said. “That’s all you can ask.”