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Preseason Top 20: No. 2 WW South

Wheaton Warrenville South is inexperienced and has the toughest schedule in the state. Scott Powers/ESPN.com

Last season: 14-0 overall, 7-0 DuPage Valley, won the Class 7A state championship, ranked No. 1 in the final ESPNChicago.com 2010 poll

Season ahead: Trying to replace 19 starters from last year's Class 7A state championship team made for an interesting offseason for Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch and his staff.

"Our coaching staff is very tired," Muhitch said. "It's been a long summer. It's been a long doubles. They've worked hard to catch up the kids and get them experience. That was our goal to catch up this group, so it can be a top-shelf football program. Their 2011 year is now in their hands."

Coming off back-to-back state championships, the Tigers' expectations haven't changed. They're still out to win another DuPage Valley title and then repeat as state champs. What has altered, through, has been Muhitch's approach with this season's group.

"I'm a little more mellower this year," Muhitch said. "I will tell you because I'm trying to stay a little more patient with the leadership process. We're picking up the intensity a lot this week. I think that will be a big deal."

Despite Wheaton Warrenville South's youthfulness and inexperience, the Tigers do possess talent. The offensive line has good size with everyone standing taller than six feet and weighing in the mid-250s. Quarterback Thaddeus Armstrong has a strong arm and is 6-6. Running backs Patrick Garner and Dan Vitale, a Northwestern recruit, are both around 6-2 and 225 and have speed. Wide receiver Zach Zlabis is 6-4 and athletic. Defensively, the Tigers return four experienced players in linebackers Brandon Peterson and Adam Dansdill, defensive end Jack Lipinsky and safety Mike Shelton and surround them with a number of talented newcomers.

And as Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet put it, "They're still Wheaton South. I think until you beat them, they're still the team to beat."

Star power: Unlike a lot of past Wheaton Warrenville South teams, this one doesn't possess much star power. Senior athlete and Northwestern recruit Dan Vitale is the closest player to that, but even he didn't see a whole lot of playing time last season. Vitale will play at nearly every possible offensive position this year. "He'll be all over the place," Muhitch said.

Breakout performer: Thaddeus Armstrong has the biggest shoes to fill this season. Reilly O'Toole, who is now at Illinois, led the Tigers to two consecutive state titles and the No. 1 ranking last year. Armstrong, who is a transfer from Ottawa, has a strong arm, has size at 6-6 and has quickly picked up the Tigers offense. "He's a great kid," Muhitch said. "He has a big arm and wants to do well. He wants to throw the ball. He has to be that offensive leader we need him to be."

Defensive difference-maker: Jack Lipinsky is the only defensive lineman returning from last year. He is expected to bring leadership and ability to the group. He had three tackles, one tackle for a loss and a forced fumble in last year's state title game.

Newcomers to watch: The entire offensive line is new. The Tigers will be starting all juniors this season. The line will include right tackle Frank Garcia (6-3, 250 pounds), right guard Ryan McCarthy (6-2, 225), center Rich Metzger (6-1, 270), left guard Hollis Henry (6-3, 240) and left tackle Kyle Joyce (6-5, 240). Guard Joe Kirsch (5-11, 270) should also be in the mix. "Not only are they young, but they're inexperienced," Muhitch said. "They have talent and they're big. We think the future is right in front of us."

Schedule breakdown: Wheaton Warrenville South has the toughest schedule in the state. The Tigers will play four teams in the ESPNChicago.com preseason top-20 rankings. They open the season against No. 3 Glenbard West and follow that up by facing No. 1 Maine South. The DuPage Valley doesn't get any easier this season either. Glenbard North, Naperville North and Wheaton North are all among the area's best again, and Naperville Central is expected to bounce back from last year's rocky season.

Key game: Sept. 2 at Maine South -- Plenty of preseason polls have replaced Wheaton Warrenville South with Maine South as the state's top-ranked team. This will be the Tigers' chance to prove that's untrue. They took it to Maine South last season, winning 44-7 in Week 2. Maine South didn't lose a game the rest of the season.

What they're saying: "Win or lose, we'll be a better program," Muhitch said of facing Glenbard West and Maine South in the first two weeks.