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NSCDS's Manny Gonzalez (32) scores a touchdown during the second quarter of their game against Hebron Saturday. September 1, 2012. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media
A year ago North Shore Country Day was coming off of a 5-5 season and wondering how it was going to withstand the loss of several key players to graduation.
Those answers came in a hurry this season, as the Raiders won seven of their first eight contests, concluding the season 7-3, with a 36-12 loss at Amboy-LaMoille Coop on Saturday in the Class 2A playoffs.
“It was a good season. Not a great one,” Raiders co-coach Fred Miller said. “To have a great season, you need to win playoff games.”
But a number of the North Shore Country Day important contributors have concluded their eligibility, including quarterback Elias Butler and running backs Aye Okesanya and Kendrick Hales. The trio combined for nearly 2,000 yards rushing this season. Hales and Okesanya accounted for both playoff touchdowns on 50 and 47 yard runs, respectively.
“We’re going to have a lot of holes to fill,” Raiders co-coach Jim Deuble said.
When you add the graduation loss of 6-foot-3, 300-pound senior lineman Joel Hylton and senior middle linebacker Sam Tullman, then the Raiders might be in for some rebuilding.
Not necessarily. More than half of the Raiders 31-player squad are underclassmen.
“The great thing about having a young team is that a lot of the kids are getting quality experience,” Miller said. “We might not be as talented, but we do have good players returning.”
Even without Hylton, North Shore Country Day will be strong on both lines of scrimmage.
Leading the way will be junior Kamani Hunter. The 6-0, 220-pound junior probably will play offensive guard and defensive tackle.
“He’s a warrior. He played seven games with a sprained ankle,” Deuble said. “He’s a tough kid, who doesn’t want to get off the field.”
Other two-way players returning include junior center and nose tackle Matt Cook, junior offensive and defensive tackle Jonathan Segal and offensive guard/defensive tackle Ian Myers.
“Those kids made a lot of progress this year,” Deuble said. “The key will be finding some depth (on the lines) so we can spell them a little bit. They all play both ways.”
The skill positions will be a bit more inexperienced. Freshman quarterback Jackson Gray is the early leader to call the Raiders signals next season.
“He did well this year,” Deuble said. “He can manage the game. He throws the ball nice and he’s very coachable.”
Junior running back Manny Gonzalez spelled Okesanya this year.
“He’s a tough, hard runner, who did a nice job for us,” Deuble said.
Junior James Lovett, who starred on the junior varsity, will assume the full time role of slot back Kendrick Hales.
If they maintain their small numbers, the Raiders, with so many two-way players, will have to make sure they stay healthy. But seeing time on both sides of the ball also provides the extra boost of experience.
“As long as they (younger players) keep making progress, we can stay competitive,” Deuble said. “Whether we can make it back to the playoffs, that’s tough to say right now.”