While realignment in the in the Suburban One League (SOL) is sure to keep everyone guessing who is going to come out on top in the division standings, the shift back to the Continental Conference could serve Council Rock North well.
The shift back to divisions based on student population (as opposed to geography) puts the Indians — as well as sister school CR South — back into the Continental Conference with CB East and West along with Hatboro-Horsham, Quakertown, Norristown and Truman.
Pennsbury, Neshaminy and Abington — schools North perennially had trouble beating — remain in the SOL National Conference joined by North Penn, Pennridge, CB South and Souderton. Bensalem also stays in the National Conference.
Indians head coach Adam Collachi sees the realignment as a tool that will level the competition in the SOL. He likes the idea.
"It's a big deal in the sense that we get a set of fresh opponents that we haven't seen in the last four or five years,' said Collachi. "It makes things interesting in terms of game-planning and scouting — seeing what their philosophies are and trying to get a competitive edge.'
"I think you are going to see a lot of teams that are evenly matched play some very exciting football games on Friday nights
"I don't think you're going to see the lopsided scores that you've seen in the past.'
Last season, North got rocked by the Redskins, Falcons and the Galloping Ghosts, all three of which assembled district playoff runs.
And while the Indians won't have to worry about Neshaminy and Abington during the regular season, North isn't letting go of all of its past conference connections; the Rock will face former division rivals Pennsbury and William Tennent — a team it squeaked by in a nail-biter — in 2014.
While nationally-renowned quarterback Brandon McIlwain leads North back out onto the field this season, he's missing a trio of targets in former receivers Dejuan Martin, Josh McWilliams and Raj Patel.
Filling in for the departed flankers are seniors Matt Cabo, Mitch Maisel and Matt Chandler along with juniors Devon Bibbons and Tyler Nowmas.
Graduation also depleted the ranks along the lines leaving the Indians without 2-way linemen Sam Horbal, Colin Kaschak and Seamus Bishof (Indiana University of Pa.). Horbal and Bishof earned All-SOL National Conference honors.
Taking places along the O-line this season are Pat Saraullo (jr.), Jake Shenot (sr.), John Riley (sr.), Mike Rademacher (sr.) and Pat Bartlett (so.) with Riley and Rademacher returning as starters.
Seniors Connor Guzy and Kyle Thorpe return as starters on the defensive line joined by senior Colin Campanelli and junior Tom Hewitt.
Also returning on defense are juniors James Closser and Seth Leuz; both players will anchor a linebacking corps joined by junior Colin Drotar and sophomore Mason Luff.
On special teams, James McMullin is taking the placekicking duties formerly performed by Alex Greenberg while Chris Welde and junior Devon Bibbens will take turns returning kicks. Like last year, McIlwain will handle the punts, keeping opposing D-coordinators guessing.
While running back Tyler Anderson has graduated, back are Seth Leuz (jr.), Ferris Berlin (sr.) and Welde (sr.). Of course, McIlwain will keep the ball and run with it often as he did last year — to the tune of 594 yards rushing on 104 carries — a 5.7-yard average.
Through the air, McIlwain threw for 1,446 yards (105-190-9) and 11 touchdowns. He rushed for 10 scores as well with two of those coming in the second half of a late-season comeback win over Truman that kept the Indians' playoff chances alive.
Trailing the Tigers 17-7 with 6:21 left in the game, it took the Indian offense and McIlwain a little over three minutes to take the lead, the winning touchdown drive encompassing 99 yards in less than a single minute, capped by a 57-yard bomb from McIlwain to DeJuan Martin.
"He's a special talent that doesn't come around very often,' stated Collachi of his SOL All-National First Team quarterback.
McIlwain stirred a lot of interest on the campus of Auburn earlier this week when he named the Tigers as one of his top six teams he's interested in playing for in college. He has 24 offers from Division 1 schools across the country. 247Sports ranks McIlwain as a four-star prospect and the nation's No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the 2016 class.
Good news for McIlwain and company is that the number of players coming out to play at North is up from previous campaigns. Rock's return to the postseason in 2013 — North gave Garnet Valley a battle in a District 1 opener — may have had something to do with that.
"Winning helps — making the playoffs last year and having a winning season. I think we're seeing a turnaround this year,' said Collachi.
"We're up a dozen kids and that's going to help our program grow and be where it needs to be.'
Whereas the Indians normally attract 25 freshmen each year to the program, 37 came out this season and the coach says that number will grow by the beginning of the school year.
Like South, the Rock's senior class is small with just 15 seniors on the team. The reason for that is that the CR School District cut freshman football in 2011 and 2012.
Coach says that makes the current crop of seniors special in that they're all four-year players.
"It wasn't easy for them — they took their lumps but now, they are the elder statesmen here and it's time for them to get the fruits of their labor.'
While the coaching staff is still in the process of finding players to fill the ranks of the departed 10 players, Collachi says, the game — and the team — remains the same.
"We're pretty much the same team. We're a hard-working football team on Friday nights that's going to try to do some things to win some football games.'
The Indians scrimmage at home with Pennridge at 9 a.m. this Saturday then travel to Plymouth-Whitemarsh for a final scrimmage on Friday, Aug. 22. Rock begins its season a week later at Pac-10 power Perkiomen Valley, a district semifinalist in 2013.
Then it's at Philly Public League rival Simon Gratz on Sept. 5 before hosting Pennsbury a week later on a Friday night in Newtown. The Indians open league play Sept. 19 at home against CB East, a 3-6 team in 2013.
NOTES: McIlwain listed South Carolina, Penn State, Auburn, Virginia Tech, Duke and Florida as his top six.
Council Rock North Football
(4-3 SOL National Conference, 7-4, overall)
Date Opponent Score W/L
Aug 30: Haverford 36-7 (W)
Sept. 07: @ Northeast 15-13 (W)
Sept. 16: Hatboro-Horsham 56-26 (W)
Sept. 20: Abington 6-41 (L)
Sept. 27: @ William Tennent 29-27 (W)
Oct 04: Neshaminy 20-42 (L)
Oct 12: Bensalem 36-10 (W)
Oct 19: @ Pennsbury 8-42 (L)
Oct 25: @ Truman 21-17 (W)
Nov 01: Council Rock South 31-21 (W)
Nov 08: @ Garnet Valley 21-35 (L)
Date Time Opponent
Aug. 16 9 a.m. Pennridge (Scrimmage)
Aug. 22 5 p.m. @ Plymouth-Whitemarsh (Scrimmage)
Aug. 29 7 p.m. @ Perkiomen Valley
Sept. 5 7 p.m. @ Simon Gratz
Sept. 12 7 p.m. Pennsbury
Sept. 19 7 p.m. CB East
Sept. 27 1 p.m. @ William Tennent
Oct. 2 7 p.m. Norristown
Oct. 11 5 p.m. @ Truman
Oct. 17 7 p.m. CB West
Oct. 25 1:30 p.m. Quakertown (HOMECOMING)
Nov. 1 12 p.m. Council Rock South