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Sandburg senior running back Jalen Austin smiled when asked about the Big 3.
Year in and year out, the SouthWest Suburban Conference powerhouses are Lincoln-Way East, Homewood-Flossmoor and Bolingbrook, and they usually mangle the rest of the teams in the league.
Last year, the Eagles lost all three games to them by a combined score of 167-0.
Austin was there for all three games, but when he was asked about facing them in 2019 he grinned and excitedly said, “I actually feel good about playing them. I feel like we have a good chance to keep up with them. If we could get a couple of wins against them, I would be really happy about that. They’ve been beating our team for years. Hopefully, this is the year we change it around.”
That would be huge in taking the Eagles, who finished 3-6 last season, to the next level.
But let’s say that does not happen this season and the Eagles go 0-3. That leaves a microscopic amount of wiggle room to make the Illinois High School playoffs with five wins out six needed against non-conference foes Morgan Park and Hillcrest, and league rivals Lincoln-Way West, Stagg, Lockport and Bradley-Bourbonnais. If Hillcrest is as good as its preseason hype, that means the Eagles may need to run the table on the other five to make it to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Scott Peters is heading into his fourth season as the Eagles boss, and 10 days before the Friday, Aug. 30 kickoff against Morgan Park at Gately Stadium, he had a pretty good idea of what his team would look like.
“I feel good going into our first couple of games,” Peters said. “Obviously, we know we are playing some tough opponents. I think we figured out, where all of the pieces go.
“Who is going to have to play both ways? Who is going to be starting? All the pieces have lined up, which is a good thing. We aren’t going into the first game with a lot of position battles the day before.”
Senior Jack Shelton will be the quarterback, and he possesses some running skills. Austin and Luke Stefanos should get plenty of carries in the running back slots.
“Jalen split some time and got some good experience last year,” Peters said. “We’re going to lean on him this year. Luke Stefanos will get some time at tailback.
“We want to be able to run the ball. If Jalen gets 40 carries a game, that’s too many, so we will split that up a bit. But if we can run the ball 40 times a game, that would be great.”
Peters has not been fond of using two-way players over the years, but this season Cam Woolery and Dylan Goodsell will start the season as both an offensive and defensive lineman, and tight end Mike Bosco also will see some time on defense. Woolery was the top athlete in the first Michael Schofield Lineman Challenge in July.
Austin, whose yards depend on huge offensive line play, said, “The offensive line is beautiful this year.”
He added that he enjoys the camaraderie with this year’s squad.
“I love the coaches and the players,” Austin said. “I’ve known a lot of these guys since I was a little kids. We all have fun and have our serious moments, too. It’s like a big group of brothers.
“As a team, we need to be more like a family and not fight,” Austin added. “I like that we all bond together and we are close. We should have a really good team this year.”