Preseason No. 9: Lake Zurich

Last season: 12-2 overall, 5-1 North Suburban Lake, lost in the Class 7A state championship to Wheaton Warrenville South, ranked No. 2 in the final ESPNChicago.com 2010 poll

Season ahead: Coach Bryan Stortz has changed where expectations rest year in and year out at Lake Zurich.

In his previous five years with the Bears, they’ve won one state title, finished second twice, reached the quarterfinals four times and made the playoffs every season. Only a handful of coaches in the state have had more impressive runs.

Coming off last season’s runner-up finish, Lake Zurich is expected to be in the mix in Class 7A again. The Bears return nine starters, including quarterback Zach Till, running back/safety Mike Shield and linebacker/wide receiver Jack Lynn.

The Bears defense should again be among the state’s best. Lake Zurich will posses plenty of speed and skill in its linebackers and secondary. The offense has to replace Jacob Brinlee, but there are some talented players coming up.

“I believe in this team,” Lynn said. “We’re going to make a run.”

Star power: Senior Jack Lynn is among the state’s premier linebackers. He had 61 tackles and four sacks last season. He’s committed to Minnesota. “His God-given ability is he has length,” Stortz said. “He has long arms and height. What he does work ethic-wise is he goes full speed all the time. He doesn’t take a play off in practice. He’s explosive. He moves well in space. He has good closing speed.”

Breakout performer: Grant Soucy started as a sophomore at defensive back for the Bears. Now a year older and more experienced, Soucy could be an impact player for the Bears.

Defensive difference-maker: Mike Shield will likely be a difference-maker on both sides of the ball as a running back and strong safety.

Newcomer to watch: Connor Schrader, a transfer from Dunlap, is expected to help fill the shoes of graduated running back Jacob Brinlee. “He’s explosive running,” Lynn said. “He’ll hit the hole and hit it hard.”

Schedule breakdown: The Bears open with two intriguing opponents – Fremd and Cary-Grove. Fremd is traditionally one of the area’s top teams, but did graduate a number of players. Cary-Grove is a smaller school, but it does have a number of quality returning players. Both games could test Lake Zurich. As far as the North Suburban, it should be competitive again most of the way through.

Key game: Oct. 6 at Stevenson -- Stevenson was the only team to hand Lake Zurich a regular-season loss. The Bears lost 24-23 at home in one of the best games of the season. This would be their chance for revenge on Stevenson’s field.

What they’re saying: “You can’t replace people,” Stortz said. “You can replace a position. I think that’s what we’re doing.”