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Lakes football’s heading toward being really good on consistent basis

CamerJohns(20) played behind star running back Direll Clark last year. Now thClark’s gone it’s Johnson’s turn shine. | SUN-TIMES MEDIA

Cameron Johnson (20) played behind star running back Direll Clark last year. Now that Clark’s gone, it’s Johnson’s turn to shine. | SUN-TIMES MEDIA FILE PHOTO

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Last Year: 9-2 (6-0 NSC Prairie); lost to Lake Forest 23-21 in the second round of the 6A state playoffs.

Lakes scored 449 points in 11 games (40.8 ppg), just behind Grayslake North’s 41.2 ppg average. No other team in Lake County averaged more than 30 points per game.

Among Lake County teams, the Eagles trailed only Lake Zurich (6.8 ppg) in points allowed with 13.7 per game.

The Eagles have now won nine games in back-to-back years and have made the playoffs four years in a row, winning at least one playoff game in three of those years.

Key losses: RB Direll Clark (Winona State). WR Justin Bergeron (Winona State). WR/DB Andrew Spencer (Winona State). OL Dillon Falotico (DuPage juco). OL/DL Ty Summers (Wisoncin-Oshkosh). DE A.J. Goggin (Air Force). LB Blake Parsons (Wisconsin-Stout). S Drew Recker (walk on at Notre Dame).

The offensive spotlight will be on senior quarterback T.J. Edwards, who last year threw for 1795 yards and 19 touchdowns, and ran for 473 yards and 11 scores. Edwards has all the tools to dominate from the position. He has continued to build on his great athleticism, and has also proven himself as a decision-maker as well, completing 76-of-117 passes with only four interceptions.

The Eagles have lost a lot of pieces around him, but have talent to step into those spots. At a 7-on-7 Monday at Highland Park, the Eagles showed off speed and, more importantly, good hands at the receiver positions. In addition to being a defensive leader for the Eagles, Nick Battaglia’s offensive role grew over the course of last season and he became a reliable target for Edwards, making 18 grabs for 294 yards and a score.

5’7” senior running back Cameron Johnson rushed for 316 yards on 38 carries (8.3 ypc) and three scores last year. He is not the semi-truck that Clark was, but he has great quickness and can get up the field. Clark’s half-brother, sophomore Devyn Cedzidlo, was dominant running the ball as a freshman on a sophomore team that went 9-0 and outscored opponents 302-54. He will get the chance to make plays at both the receiver and running back positions.

The defense will have some good senior leadership but will need some younger players to make big contributions. The unit should ripen over the course of the season, and a favorable schedule and what figures to be another explosive offense means the Eagles can afford some growing pains on that side of the ball.

The Eagles will extend their streak of playoff appearances this season and won’t relinquish the Prairie Division title easily. If they peak at the right time and get a favorable playoff draw, the Eagles can be playing past the first weekend of November once again.

SCHEDULE: Grayslake North. @ Woodstock North. Round Lake (THUR). Antioch. @ Wauconda. Grant. @ Vernon Hills. @ North Chicago. @ Mundelein

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Updated: August 21, 2013 6:03AM

A year ago, Lakes High School football coach Luke Mertens was playing hide-and-seek with his starting quarterback.

All the way up to and through the school’s intrasquad game in mid-August, T.J. Edwards spent more time holding his helmet in one hand and a clipboard in the other during non-game action than he did practicing plays on the field.

It was all part of a strategy to keep the focus off his young QB, which was pretty easy to do since all eyes were on star running back Direll Clark.

That was then, and this is now.

Now, Clark has taken his 202 carries, 1,527 yards, 21 TDs, 11 pass receptions and every Lakes school rushing record with him to NCAA Division 2 Winona State University in Minnesota.

And the spotlight as preparations for the 2013 season begin, is now shining brightly on the now-veteran quarterback.

Consider him ready.

“Everyone knows who he is now,” the coach said. “Last year, people wondered who Lakes’ quarterback was going to be, and here comes T.J. Even when people started becoming aware of him there was still Direll that teams had to pay attention to.

“Now, everybody knows who he is, so he’s going to have to step his game up even more. He’s a great competitor, so I’m not too worried about that. Nobody is going to place higher expectations on him than he places on himself.”

Chances are, Lakes will never have another team like it had last year — 9-2 with both defeats near-misses against mighty Lake Forest, once during the regular season and once in the playoffs. Eight of last year’s seniors hope to be playing college football this fall at some level. Yet ...

For most teams, the loss of so many quality players would be devastating, and without question the Eagles will feel it ... a lot. But there is something happening at Lakes these days that you might see more commonly at perennial state powers like Lake Zurich.

Players are walking onto the field on Day 1 having completely bought into the football tradition the school is building and wanting to be a part of the next great Lakes football team. Along with even earlier teams, the group of departing players helped set the tone, and that has carried over to a team that has some key returning pieces and plenty of new ones.

A running back to replace Clark?

The Eagles have one. No, the Eagles have TWO.

“Devyn (Cedzidlo) is working at both back and receiver for us,” said Merkens. Cedzidlo is a sophomore and the half-brother of Clark. As a freshman, he ran wild at the sophomore level on a team that went 9-0.

“Cameron Johnson had a good year for us as a junior,” the coach said. “There are a lot of teams where he would have been the starting running back last year, running for over 1,000 yards. It just so happened that we had a pretty good running back in front of him. Cameron was patiently waiting his turn. Now, it’s his turn to be the guy and get the bulk of the carries, and to have a successful season like Direll had for us in the past.”

And they’re not the only ready-for-prime-time players wearing Eagles jerseys.

“Nick (Battaglia) is a returning starter and just a good football player. He does everything for us. He’ll be a huge part of our receiving core,” Mertens said. “Zack Shoman played a lot on both sides of the ball last year. We’re looking for big things from them.

“Jake Balliu, who is going to be a junior, is going to be a huge playmaker. He’s just a great athlete who can do the quarterback/running back/receiver/returner thing. He made some great plays last year as a sophomore and we’re looking for him to step up and do a lot for us.”

Defensively, Lakes graduated two huge stars in A.J. Goggin (Air Force) and Drew Recker (walking on at Notre Dame).

“It’s pretty hard to replace guys like that, but every team deals with the same kind of thing,” the coach said. “We feel that our D-line and our linebackers can be a huge strength for us. We’re going to be young, there are going to be a lot of juniors out there, but we really feel we can be strong in those places. But ... we haven’t played a game yet. Time will tell.”

The time that will tell is November ... the playoffs. Having traded mighty Lake Forest for lowly Mundelein on the schedule — not by choice — the Eagles may be the area’s best bet to run the table. It’s likely the only Friday night they won’t be favored to win is Week 3, and that’s because the game that week is on a Thursday.

Certainly, the players are fired up.

“I think we all had a lot of fun last year, but we didn’t want it to end the way it did,” said Battaglia. “We’ve all put in a lot of work during the offseason. We want to continue to build on that success.”

That sentiment was echoed by the quarterback. “It’s been a productive summer. Everything is coming along like you would hope,” he said, adding a comment on losing so many star players: “It’s tough because those guys were huge for us, but we have plenty of guys who have shown they’re ready to step into those roles.”

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